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Title: The Caesars
Author: De Quincey, Thomas, 1785-1859
Language: English
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By Thomas De Quincey


The condition of the Roman Emperors has never yet been fully
appreciated; nor has it been sufficiently perceived in what respects it
was absolutely unique. There was but one Rome: no other city, as we are
satisfied by the collation of many facts, either of ancient or modern
times, has ever rivalled this astonishing metropolis in the grandeur
of magnitude; and not many--if we except the cities of Greece, none at
all--in the grandeur of architectural display. Speaking even of London,
we ought in all reason to say--the _Nation of London,_ and not the City
of London; but of Rome in her palmy days, nothing less could be said
in the naked severity of logic. A million and a half of souls--that
population, apart from any other distinctions, is _per se_ for London a
justifying ground for such a classification; _à fortiori_, then, will it
belong to a city which counted from one horn to the other of its mighty
suburbs not less than four millions of inhabitants [Footnote: Concerning
this question--once so fervidly debated, yet so unprofitably for the
final adjudication, and in some respects, we may add, so erroneously--on
a future occasion.] at the very least, as we resolutely maintain after
reviewing all that has been written on that much vexed theme, and very
probably half as many more. Republican Rome had her _prerogative_ tribe;
the earth has its _prerogative_ city; and that city was Rome.

As was the city, such was its prince--mysterious, solitary, unique. Each
was to the other an adequate counterpart, each reciprocally that
perfect mirror which reflected, as it were _in alia materia,_ those
incommunicable attributes of grandeur, that under the same shape and
denomination never upon this earth were destined to be revived. Rome has
not been repeated; neither has Cæsar. _Ubi Cæsar, ibi Roma_--was a maxim
of Roman jurisprudence. And the same maxim may be translated into
a wider meaning; in which it becomes true also for our historical
experience. Cæsar and Rome have flourished and expired together. The
illimitable attributes of the Roman prince, boundless and comprehensive
as the universal air,--like that also bright and apprehensible to the
most vagrant eye, yet in parts (and those not far removed) unfathomable
as outer darkness, (for no chamber in a dungeon could shroud in more
impenetrable concealment a deed of murder than the upper chambers of the
air,)--these attributes, so impressive to the imagination, and which all
the subtlety of the Roman [Footnote: Or even of modern wit; witness the
vain attempt of so many eminent sort, and illustrious _Antecessors_, to
explain in self-consistency the differing functions of the Roman
Cæsar, and in what sense he was _legibus solutus_. The origin of this
difficulty we shall soon understand.] wit could as little fathom as the
fleets of Cæsar could traverse the Polar basin, or unlock the gates
of the Pacific, are best symbolized, and find their most appropriate
exponent, in the illimitable city itself--that Rome, whose centre, the
Capitol, was immovable as Teneriffe or Atlas, but whose circumference
was shadowy, uncertain, restless, and advancing as the frontiers of
her all-conquering empire. It is false to say, that with Cæsar came the
destruction of Roman greatness. Peace, hollow rhetoricians! Until Cæsar
came, Rome was a minor; by him, she attained her majority, and fulfilled
her destiny. Caius Julius, you say, deflowered the virgin purity of her
civil liberties. Doubtless, then, Rome had risen immaculate from the
arms of Sylla and of Marius. But, if it were Caius Julius who deflowered
Rome, if under him she forfeited her dowery of civic purity, if to him
she first unloosed her maiden zone, then be it affirmed boldly--that she
reserved her greatest favors for the noblest of her wooers, and we may
plead the justification of Falconbridge for his mother's trangression
with the lion-hearted king--such a sin was self-ennobled. Did Julius
deflower Rome? Then, by that consummation, he caused her to fulfill the
functions of her nature; he compelled her to exchange the imperfect and
inchoate condition of a mere _fæmina_ for the perfections of a _mulier_.
And, metaphor apart, we maintain that Rome lost no liberties by
the mighty Julius. That which in tendency, and by the spirit of
her institutions--that which, by her very corruptions and abuses
co-operating with her laws, Rome promised and involved in the germ--even
that, and nothing less or different, did Rome unfold and accomplish
under this Julian violence. The rape [if such it were] of Cæsar, her
final Romulus, completed for Rome that which the rape under Romulus, her
earliest Cæsar, had prosperously begun. And thus by one godlike man was
a nation-city matured; and from the everlasting and nameless [Footnote:
"_Nameless city_."--The true name of Rome it was a point of religion
to conceal; and, in fact, it was never revealed.] city was a man
produced--capable of taming her indomitable nature, and of forcing her
to immolate her wild virginity to the state best fitted for the destined
"Mother of empires." Peace, then, rhetoricians, false threnodists of
false liberty! hollow chanters over the ashes of a hollow republic!
Without Cæsar, we affirm a thousand times that there would have been no
perfect Rome; and, but for Rome, there could have been no such man as

Both then were immortal; each worthy of each. And the _Cui viget nihil
simile aut secundum_ of the poet, was as true of one as of the other.
For, if by comparison with Rome other cities were but villages, with
even more propriety it may be asserted, that after the Roman Cæsars all
modern kings, kesars, or emperors, are mere phantoms of royalty. The
Cæsar of Western Rome--he only of all earthly potentates, past or to
come, could be said to reign as a _monarch_, that is, as a solitary
king. He was not the greatest of princes, simply because there was
no other but himself. There were doubtless a few outlying rulers, of
unknown names and titles upon the margins of his empire, there were
tributary lieutenants and barbarous _reguli_, the obscure vassals of his
sceptre, whose homage was offered on the lowest step of his throne, and
scarcely known to him but as objects of disdain. But these feudatories
could no more break the unity of his empire, which embraced the whole
_oichomeni_;--the total habitable world as then known to geography, or
recognised by the muse of History--than at this day the British empire
on the sea can be brought into question or made conditional, because
some chief of Owyhee or Tongataboo should proclaim a momentary
independence of the British trident, or should even offer a transient
outrage to her sovereign flag. Such a _tempestas in matulâ_ might raise
a brief uproar in his little native archipelago, but too feeble to reach
the shores of Europe by an echo--or to ascend by so much as an infantine
_susurrus_ to the ears of the British Neptune. Parthia, it is true,
might pretend to the dignity of an empire. But her sovereigns, though
sitting in the seat of the great king, (_o basileus_,) were no longer
the rulers of a vast and polished nation. They were regarded as
barbarians--potent only by their standing army, not upon the larger
basis of civic strength; and, even under this limitation, they were
supposed to owe more to the circumstances of their position--their
climate, their remoteness, and their inaccessibility except through
arid and sultry deserts--than to intrinsic resources, such as could be
permanently relied on in a serious trial of strength between the two
powers. The kings of Parthia, therefore, were far enough from being
regarded in the light of antagonist forces to the majesty of Rome. And,
these withdrawn from the comparison, who else was there--what prince,
what king, what potentate of any denomination, to break the universal
calm, that through centuries continued to lave, as with the quiet
undulations of summer lakes, the sacred footsteps of the Cæsarean
throne? The Byzantine court, which, merely as the inheritor of some
fragments from that august throne, was drunk with excess of pride,
surrounded itself with elaborate expressions of a grandeur beyond what
mortal eyes were supposed able to sustain.

These fastidious, and sometimes fantastic ceremonies, originally devised
as the very extremities of anti-barbarism, were often themselves but too
nearly allied in spirit to the barbaresque in taste. In reality, some
parts of the Byzantine court ritual were arranged in the same spirit as
that of China or the Birman empire; or fashioned by anticipation, as one
might think, on the practice of that Oriental Cham, who daily proclaims
by sound of trumpet to the kings in the four corners of the earth--that
they, having dutifully awaited the close of _his_ dinner, may now with
his royal license go to their own.

From such vestiges of _derivative_ grandeur, propagated to ages so
remote from itself, and sustained by manners so different from the
spirit of her own,--we may faintly measure the strength of the original
impulse given to the feelings of men by the _sacred_ majesty of the
Roman throne. How potent must that splendor have been, whose mere
reflection shot rays upon a distant crown, under another heaven, and
across the wilderness of fourteen centuries! Splendor, thus transmitted,
thus sustained, and thus imperishable, argues a transcendent in the
basis of radical power. Broad and deep must those foundations have
been laid, which could support an "arch of empire" rising to that giddy
altitude--an altitude which sufficed to bring it within the ken of
posterity to the sixtieth generation.

Power is measured by resistance. Upon such a scale, if it were applied
with skill, the _relations_ of greatness in Rome to the greatest of all
that has gone before her, and has yet come after her, would first be
adequately revealed. The youngest reader will know that the grandest
forms in which the _collective_ might of the human race has manifested
itself, are the four monarchies. Four times have the distributive forces
of nations gathered themselves, under the strong compression of the
sword, into mighty aggregates--denominated _Universal Empires_, or
Monarchies. These are noticed in the Holy Scriptures; and it is upon
_their_ warrant that men have supposed no fifth monarchy or universal
empire possible in an earthly sense; but that, whenever such an empire
arises, it will have Christ for its head; in other words, that no fifth
_monarchia_ can take place until Christianity shall have swallowed up
all other forms of religion, and shall have gathered the whole family
of man into one fold under one all-conquering Shepherd. Hence [Footnote:
This we mention, because a great error has been sometimes committed
in exposing _their_ error, that consisted, not in supposing that for a
fifth time men were to be gathered under one sceptre, and that sceptre
wielded by Jesus Christ, but in supposing that this great era had then
arrived, or that with no deeper moral revolution men could be fitted for
that yoke.] the fanatics of 1650, who proclaimed Jesus for their king,
and who did sincerely anticipate his near advent in great power,
and under some personal manifestation, were usually styled

However, waiving the question (interesting enough in itself)--Whether
upon earthly principles a fifth universal empire could by possibility
arise in the present condition of knowledge for man individually, and
of organization for man in general--this question waived, and confining
ourselves to the comparison of those four monarchies which actually have
existed,--of the Assyrian or earliest, we may remark, that it found
men in no state of cohesion. This cause, which came in aid of its first
foundation, would probably continue; and would diminish the _intensity_
of the power in the same proportion as it promoted its _extension_. This
monarchy would be absolute only by the personal presence of the monarch;
elsewhere, from mere defect of organization, it would and must
betray the total imperfections of an elementary state, and of a first
experiment. More by the weakness inherent in such a constitution, than
by its own strength, did the Persian spear prevail against the Assyrian.
Two centuries revolved, seven or eight generations, when Alexander found
himself in the same position as Cyrus for building a third monarchy,
and aided by the selfsame vices of luxurious effeminacy in his enemy,
confronted with the self-same virtues of enterprise and hardihood in
his compatriot soldiers. The native Persians, in the earliest and very
limited import of that name, were a poor and hardy race of mountaineers.
So were the men of Macedon; and neither one tribe nor the other found
any adequate resistance in the luxurious occupants of Babylonia. We may
add, with respect to these two earliest monarchies, that the Assyrian
was undefined with regard to space, and the Persian fugitive with regard
to time. But for the third--the Grecian or Macedonian--we know that the
arts of civility, and of civil organization, had made great progress
before the Roman strength was measured against it. In Macedon, in
Achaia, in Syria, in Asia Minor, in Egypt,--every where the members
of this empire had begun to knit; the cohesion was far closer, the
development of their resources more complete; the resistance therefore
by many hundred degrees more formidable: consequently, by the fairest
inference, the power in that proportion greater which laid the
foundations of this last great monarchy. It is probable, indeed, both
_à priori_, and upon the evidence of various facts which have survived,
that each of the four great empires successively triumphed over an
antagonist, barbarous in comparison of itself, and each _by_ and through
that very superiority in the arts and policy of civilization.

Rome, therefore, which came last in the succession, and swallowed up
the three great powers that had _seriatim_ cast the human race into one
mould, and had brought them under the unity of a single will, entered
by inheritance upon all that its predecessors in that career had
appropriated, but in a condition of far ampler development. Estimated
merely by longitude and latitude, the territory of the Roman empire was
the finest by much that has ever fallen under a single sceptre. Amongst
modern empires, doubtless, the Spanish of the sixteenth century, and the
British of the present, cannot but be admired as prodigious growths
out of so small a stem. In that view they will be endless monuments
in attestation of the marvels which are lodged in civilization. But
considered in and for itself, and with no reference to the proportion of
the creating forces, each of these empires has the great defect of being
disjointed, and even insusceptible of perfect union. It is in fact no
_vinculum_ of social organization which held them together, but the
ideal _vinculum_ of a common fealty, and of submission to the same
sceptre. This is not like the tie of manners, operative even where it is
not perceived, but like the distinctions of geography--existing to-day,
forgotten to-morrow--and abolished by a stroke of the pen, or a trick
of diplomacy. Russia, again, a mighty empire, as respects the simple
grandeur of magnitude, builds her power upon sterility. She has it in
her power to seduce an invading foe into vast circles of starvation,
of which the radii measure a thousand leagues. Frost and snow are
confederates of her strength. She is strong by her very weakness. But
Rome laid a belt about the Mediterranean of a thousand miles in breadth;
and within that zone she comprehended not only all the great cities of
the ancient world, but so perfectly did she lay the garden of the world
in every climate, and for every mode of natural wealth, within her own
ring-fence, that since that era no land, no part and parcel of the Roman
empire, has ever risen into strength and opulence, except where unusual
artificial industry has availed to counteract the tendencies of nature.
So entirely had Rome engrossed whatsoever was rich by the mere bounty of
native endowment.

Vast, therefore, unexampled, immeasurable, was the basis of natural
power upon which the Roman throne reposed. The military force which
put Rome in possession of this inordinate power, was certainly in some
respects artificial; but the power itself was natural, and not subject
to the ebbs and flows which attend the commercial empires of our days,
(for all are in part commercial.) The depression, the reverses, of Rome,
were confined to one shape--famine; a terrific shape, doubtless, but one
which levies its penalty of suffering, not by elaborate processes that
do not exhaust their total cycle in less than long periods of years.
Fortunately for those who survive, no arrears of misery are allowed by
this scourge of ancient days; [Footnote: "_Of ancient days_."--For it
is remarkable, and it serves to mark an indubitable progress of mankind,
that, before the Christian era, famines were of frequent occurrence in
countries the most civilized; afterwards they became rare, and latterly
have entirely altered their character into occasional dearths.] the
total penalty is paid down at once. As respected the hand of man, Rome
slept for ages in absolute security. She could suffer only by the wrath
of Providence; and, so long as she continued to be Rome, for many a
generation she only of all the monarchies has feared no mortal hand
[Footnote: Unless that hand were her own armed against herself; upon
which topic there is a burst of noble eloquence in one of the ancient
Panegyrici, when haranguing the Emperor Theodosius: "Thou, Rome! that,
having once suffered by the madness of Cinna, and of the cruel Marius
raging from banishment, and of Sylla, that won his wreath of prosperity
from thy disasters, and of Cæsar, compassionate to the dead, didst
shudder at every blast of the trumpet filled by the breath of civil
commotion,--thou, that, besides the wreck of thy soldiery perishing on
either side, didst bewail, amongst thy spectacles of domestic woe, the
luminaries of thy senate extinguished, the heads of thy consuls fixed
upon a halberd, weeping for ages over thy self-slaughtered Catos, thy
headless Ciceros (_truncosque Cicerones_), and unburied Pompeys;--to
whom the party madness of thy own children had wrought in every age
heavier woe than the Carthaginian thundering at thy gates, or the Gaul
admitted within thy walls; on whom OEmathia, more fatal than the day
of Allia,--Collina, more dismal than Cannæ,--had inflicted such deep
memorials of wounds, that, from bitter experience of thy own valor, no
enemy was to thee so formidable as thyself;--thou, Rome! didst now for
the first time behold a civil war issuing in a hallowed prosperity, a
soldiery appeased, recovered Italy, and for thyself liberty established.
Now first in thy long annals thou didst rest from a civil war in such
a peace, that righteously, and with maternal tenderness, thou mightst
claim for it the honors of a civic triumph."]

  --"God and his Son except,
  Created thing nought valued she nor shunned."

That the possessor and wielder of such enormous power--power alike
admirable for its extent, for its intensity, and for its consecration
from all counterforces which could restrain it, or endanger it--should
be regarded as sharing in the attributes of supernatural beings, is no
more than might naturally be expected. All other known power in human
hands has either been extensive, but wanting in intensity--or intense,
but wanting in extent--or, thirdly, liable to permanent control and
hazard from some antagonist power commensurate with itself. But the
Roman power, in its centuries of grandeur, involved every mode of
strength, with absolute immunity from all kinds and degrees of weakness.
It ought not, therefore, to surprise us that the emperor, as the
depositary of this charmed power, should have been looked upon as a
_sacred_ person, and the imperial family considered a "_divina_ domus."
It is an error to regard this as excess of adulation, or as built
_originally_ upon hypocrisy. Undoubtedly the expressions of this
feeling are sometimes gross and overcharged, as we find them in the very
greatest of the Roman poets: for example, it shocks us to find a fine
writer in anticipating the future canonization of his patron, and his
instalment amongst the heavenly hosts, begging him to keep his distance
warily from this or that constellation, and to be cautious of throwing
his weight into either hemisphere, until the scale of proportions were
accurately adjusted. These doubtless are passages degrading alike to the
poet and his subject. But why? Not because they ascribe to the emperor a
sanctity which he had not in the minds of men universally, or which even
to the writer's feeling was exaggerated, but because it was expressed
coarsely, and as a _physical_ power: now, every thing physical is
measurable by weight, motion, and resistance; and is therefore
definite. But the very essence of whatsoever is supernatural lies in the
indefinite. That power, therefore, with which the minds of men invested
the emperor, was vulgarized by this coarse translation into the region
of physics. Else it is evident, that any power which, by standing above
all human control, occupies the next relation to superhuman modes
of authority, must be invested by all minds alike with some dim and
undefined relation to the sanctities of the next world. Thus, for
instance, the Pope, as the father of Catholic Christendom, could not
_but_ be viewed with awe by any Christian of deep feeling, as standing
in some relation to the true and unseen Father of the spiritual body.
Nay, considering that even false religions, as those of Pagan mythology,
have probably never been utterly stripped of all vestige of truth, but
that every such mode of error has perhaps been designed as a process,
and adapted by Providence to the case of those who were capable of
admitting no more perfect shape of truth; even the heads of such
superstitions (the Dalai Lama, for instance) may not unreasonably be
presumed as within the cognizance and special protection of Heaven.
Much more may this be supposed of him to whose care was confided the
weightier part of the human race; who had it in his power to promote
or to suspend the progress of human improvement; and of whom, and the
motions of whose will, the very prophets of Judea took cognizance. No
nation, and no king, was utterly divorced from the councils of God.
Palestine, as a central chamber of God's administration, stood in some
relation to all. It has been remarked, as a mysterious and significant
fact, that the founders of the great empires all had some connection,
more or less, with the temple of Jerusalem. Melancthon even observes
it in his Sketch of Universal History, as worthy of notice--that
Pompey died, as it were, within sight of that very temple which he
had polluted. Let us not suppose that Paganism, or Pagan nations, were
therefore excluded from the concern and tender interest of Heaven. They
also had their place allowed. And we may be sure that, amongst them, the
Roman emperor, as the great accountant for the happiness of more men,
and men more cultivated, than ever before were intrusted to the motions
of a single will, had a special, singular, and mysterious relation to
the secret counsels of Heaven.

Even we, therefore, may lawfully attribute some sanctity to the Roman
emperor. That the Romans did so with absolute sincerity is certain. The
altars of the emperor had a twofold consecration; to violate them, was
the double crime of treason and heresy, In his appearances of state and
ceremony, the fire, the sacred fire _epompeue_ was carried in ceremonial
solemnity before him; and every other circumstance of divine worship
attended the emperor in his lifetime. [Footnote: The fact is, that the
emperor was more of a sacred and divine creature in his lifetime than
after his death. His consecrated character as a living ruler was a
truth; his canonization, a fiction of tenderness to his memory.]

To this view of the imperial character and relations must be added one
single circumstance, which in some measure altered the whole for the
individual who happened to fill the office. The emperor _de facto_
might be viewed under two aspects: there was the man, and there was
the office. In his office he was immortal and sacred: but as a question
might still be raised, by means of a mercenary army, as to the claims
of the particular individual who at any time filled the office, the very
sanctity and privilege of the character with which he was clothed might
actually be turned against himself; and here it is, at this point, that
the character of Roman emperor became truly and mysteriously awful.
Gibbon has taken notice of the extraordinary situation of a subject in
the Roman empire who should attempt to fly from the wrath of the crown.
Such was the ubiquity of the emperor that this was absolutely hopeless.
Except amongst pathless deserts or barbarous nomads, it was impossible
to find even a transient sanctuary from the imperial pursuit. If he went
down to the sea, there he met the emperor: if he took the wings of the
morning, and fled to the uttermost parts of the earth, there also was
the emperor or his lieutenants. But the same omnipresence of imperial
anger and retribution which withered the hopes of the poor humble
prisoner, met and confounded the emperor himself, when hurled from his
giddy elevation by some fortunate rival. All the kingdoms of the earth,
to one in that situation, became but so many wards of the same infinite
prison. Flight, if it were even successful for the moment, did but a
little retard his inevitable doom. And so evident was this, that hardly
in one instance did the fallen prince _attempt_ to fly; but passively
met the death which was inevitable, in the very spot where ruin had
overtaken him. Neither was it possible even for a merciful conqueror to
show mercy; for, in the presence of an army so mercenary and factious,
his own safety was but too deeply involved in the extermination of rival
pretenders to the crown.

Such, amidst the sacred security and inviolability of the office, was
the hazardous tenure of the individual. Nor did his dangers always arise
from persons in the rank of competitors and rivals. Sometimes it menaced
him in quarters which his eye had never penetrated, and from enemies too
obscure to have reached his ear. By way of illustration we will cite a
case from the life of the Emperor Commodus, which is wild enough to have
furnished the plot of a romance--though as well authenticated as any
other passage in that reign. The story is narrated by Herodian, and the
circumstances are these: A slave of noble qualities, and of magnificent
person, having liberated himself from the degradations of bondage,
determined to avenge his own wrongs by inflicting continual terror upon
the town and neighborhood which had witnessed his humiliation. For this
purpose he resorted to the woody recesses of the province, (somewhere in
the modern Transylvania,) and, attracting to his wild encampment as many
fugitives as he could, by degrees he succeeded in forming and training a
very formidable troop of freebooters. Partly from the energy of his own
nature, and partly from the neglect and remissness of the provincial
magistrates, the robber captain rose from less to more, until he had
formed a little army, equal to the task of assaulting fortified cities.
In this stage of his adventures, he encountered and defeated several
of the imperial officers commanding large detachments of troops; and at
length grew of consequence sufficient to draw upon himself the emperor's
eye, and the honor of his personal displeasure. In high wrath and
disdain at the insults offered to his eagles by this fugitive slave,
Commodus fulminated against him such an edict as left him no hope of
much longer escaping with impunity.

Public vengeance was now awakened; the imperial troops were marching
from every quarter upon the same centre; and the slave became sensible
that in a very short space of time he must be surrounded and destroyed.
In this desperate situation he took a desperate resolution: he assembled
his troops, laid before them his plan, concerted the various steps
for carrying it into effect, and then dismissed them as independent
wanderers. So ends the first chapter of the tale.

The next opens in the passes of the Alps, whither by various routes, of
seven or eight hundred miles in extent, these men had threaded their
way in manifold disguises through the very midst of the emperor's camps.
According to this man's gigantic enterprise, in which the means were as
audacious as the purpose, the conspirators were to rendezvous, and first
to recognise each other at the gates of Rome. From the Danube to the
Tiber did this band of robbers severally pursue their perilous routes
through all the difficulties of the road and the jealousies of the
military stations, sustained by the mere thirst of vengeance--vengeance
against that mighty foe whom they knew only by his proclamations against
themselves. Every thing continued to prosper; the conspirators met under
the walls of Rome; the final details were arranged; and those also
would have prospered but for a trifling accident. The season was one of
general carnival at Rome; and, by the help of those disguises which
the license of this festal time allowed, the murderers were to have
penetrated as maskers to the emperor's retirement, when a casual word
or two awoke the suspicions of a sentinel. One of the conspirators was
arrested; under the terror and uncertainty of the moment, he made much
ampler discoveries than were expected of him; the other accomplices were
secured: and Commodus was delivered from the uplifted daggers of those
who had sought him by months of patient wanderings, pursued through all
the depths of the Illyrian forests, and the difficulties of the Alpine
passes. It is not easy to find words commensurate to the energetic
hardihood of a slave--who, by way of answer and reprisal to an edict
which consigned him to persecution and death, determines to cross Europe
in quest of its author, though no less a person than the master of the
world--to seek him out in the inner recesses of his capital city and
his private palace--and there to lodge a dagger in his heart, as the
adequate reply to the imperial sentence of proscription against himself.

Such, amidst his superhuman grandeur and consecrated powers of the
Roman emperor's office, were the extraordinary perils which menaced
the individual, and the peculiar frailties of his condition. Nor is it
possible that these circumstances of violent opposition can be better
illustrated than in this tale of Herodian. Whilst the emperor's mighty
arms were stretched out to arrest some potentate in the heart of Asia,
a poor slave is silently and stealthily creeping round the base of the
Alps, with the purpose of winning his way as a murderer to the imperial
bedchamber; Cæsar is watching some mighty rebel of the Orient, at a
distance of two thousand leagues, and he overlooks the dagger which is
at his own heart. In short, all the heights and the depths which
belong to man as aspirers, all the contrasts of glory and meanness, the
extremities of what is his highest and lowest in human possibility,--all
met in the situation of the Roman Cæsars, and have combined to make them
the most interesting studies which history has furnished.

This, as a general proposition, will be readily admitted. But meantime,
it is remarkable that no field has been less trodden than the private
memorials of those very Cæsars; whilst at the same time it is equally
remarkable, in concurrence with that subject for wonder, that precisely
with the first of the Cæsars commences the first page of what in modern
times we understand by anecdotes. Suetonius is the earliest writer in
that department of biography; so far as we know, he may be held first
to have devised it as a mode of history. The six writers, whose sketches
are collected under the general title of the _Augustan History_,
followed in the same track. Though full of entertainment, and of the
most curious researches, they are all of them entirely unknown, except
to a few elaborate scholars. We purpose to collect from these obscure,
but most interesting memorialists, a few sketches and biographical
portraits of these great princes, whose public life is sometimes known,
but very rarely any part of their private and personal history. We must
of course commence with the mighty founder of the Cæsars. In his case
we cannot expect so much of absolute novelty as in that of those who
succeed. But if, in this first instance, we are forced to touch a little
upon old things, we shall confine ourselves as much as possible to those
which are susceptible of new aspects. For the whole gallery of those
who follow, we can undertake that the memorials which we shall bring
forward, may be looked upon as belonging pretty much to what has
hitherto been a sealed book.


The character of the first Cæsar has perhaps never been worse
appreciated than by him who in one sense described it best--that is,
with most force and eloquence wherever he really _did_ comprehend it.
This was Lucan, who has nowhere exhibited more brilliant rhetoric, nor
wandered more from the truth, than in the contrasted portraits of Cæsar
and Pompey. The famous line, "_Nil actum reputans si quid superesset
agendum_," is a fine feature of the real character, finely expressed.
But if it had been Lucan's purpose (as possibly, with a view to Pompey's
benefit, in some respects it was) utterly and extravagantly to falsify
the character of the great Dictator, by no single trait could he more
effectually have fulfilled that purpose, nor in fewer words, than by
this expressive passage, "_Gaudensque viam fecisse ruina_." Such a trait
would be almost extravagant applied even to Marius, who (though in
many respects a perfect model of Roman grandeur, massy, columnar,
imperturbable, and more perhaps than any one man recorded in history
capable of justifying the bold illustration of that character in Horace,
"_Si fractus illabatur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinæ_") had, however, a
ferocity in his character, and a touch of the devil in him, very
rarely united with the same tranquil intrepidity. But for Cæsar, the
all-accomplished statesman, the splendid orator, the man of elegant
habits and polished taste, the patron of the fine arts in a degree
transcending all example of his own or the previous age, and as a man
of general literature so much beyond his contemporaries, except Cicero,
that he looked down even upon the brilliant Sylla as an illiterate
person,--to class such a man with the race of furious destroyers
exulting in the desolations they spread, is to err not by an individual
trait, but by the whole genus. The Attilas and the Tamerlanes, who
rejoice in avowing themselves the scourges of God, and the special
instruments of his wrath, have no one feature of affinity to the
polished and humane Cæsar, and would as little have comprehended his
character, as he could have respected theirs. Even Cato, the unworthy
hero of Lucan, might have suggested to him a little more truth in this
instance, by a celebrated remark which he made on the characteristic
distinction of Cæsar, in comparison with other revolutionary disturbers;
for, whereas others had attempted the overthrow of the state in a
continued paroxysm of fury, and in a state of mind resembling the lunacy
of intoxication, that Cæsar, on the contrary, among that whole class of
civil disturbers, was the only one who had come to the task in a temper
of sobriety and moderation, (_unum accessisse sobrium ad rempublicam

In reality, Lucan did not think as he wrote. He had a purpose to serve;
and in an age when to act like a freeman was no longer possible, he
determined at least to write in that character. It is probable, also,
that he wrote with a vindictive or a malicious feeling towards Nero;
and, as the single means he had for gratifying _that_, resolved upon
sacrificing the grandeur of Cæsar's character wherever it should be
found possible. Meantime, in spite of himself, Lucan for ever betrays
his lurking consciousness of the truth. Nor are there any testimonies
to Cæsar's vast superiority more memorably pointed, than those which
are indirectly and involuntarily extorted from this Catonic poet, by the
course of his narration. Never, for example, was there within the same
compass of words, a more emphatic expression of Cæsar's essential and
inseparable grandeur of thought, which could not be disguised or be
laid aside for an instant, than is found in the three casual
words--_Indocilis privata loqui_. The very mould, it seems, by Lucan's
confession, of his trivial conversation was regal; nor could he, even to
serve a purpose, abjure it for so much as a casual purpose. The acts of
Cæsar speak also the same language; and as these are less susceptible of
a false coloring than the features of a general character, we find this
poet of liberty, in the midst of one continuous effort to distort
the truth, and to dress up two scenical heroes, forced by the mere
necessities of history into a reluctant homage to Cæsar's supremacy of
moral grandeur.

Of so great a man it must be interesting to know all the well attested
opinions which bear upon topics of universal interest to human nature;
as indeed no others stood much chance of preservation, unless it were
from as minute and curious a collector of _anecdotage_ as Suetonius.
And, first, it would be gratifying to know the opinion of Cæsar, if he
had any peculiar to himself, on the great theme of Religion. It has been
held, indeed, that the constitution of his mind, and the general cast
of his character, indisposed him to religious thoughts. Nay, it has been
common to class him amongst deliberate atheists; and some well known
anecdotes are current in books, which illustrate his contempt for the
vulgar class of auguries. In this, however, he went no farther than
Cicero, and other great contemporaries, who assuredly were no atheists.
One mark perhaps of the wide interval which, in Cæsar's age, had begun
to separate the Roman nobility from the hungry and venal populace who
were daily put up to sale, and bought by the highest bidder, manifested
itself in the increasing disdain for the tastes and ruling sympathies of
the lowest vulgar. No mob could be more abjectly servile than was that
of Rome to the superstition of portents, prodigies, and omens. Thus far,
in common with his order, and in this sense, Julius Cæsar was naturally
a despiser of superstition. Mere strength of understanding would,
perhaps, have made him so in any age, and apart from the circumstances
of his personal history. This natural tendency in him would doubtless
receive a further bias in the same direction from the office of Pontifex
Maximus, which he held at an early stage of his public career. This
office, by letting him too much behind the curtain, and exposing too
entirely the base machinery of ropes and pulleys, which sustained the
miserable jugglery played off upon the popular credulity, impressed him
perhaps even unduly with contempt for those who could be its dupes. And
we may add--that Cæsar was constitutionally, as well as by accident of
position, too much a man of the world, had too powerful a leaning to the
virtues of active life, was governed by too partial a sympathy with the
whole class of _active_ forces in human nature, as contradistinguished
from those which tend to contemplative purposes, under any
circumstances, to have become a profound believer, or a steadfast
reposer of his fears and anxieties, in religious influences. A man of
the world is but another designation for a man indisposed to religious
awe or contemplative enthusiasm. Still it is a doctrine which we
cherish--that grandeur of mind in any one department whatsoever,
supposing only that it exists in excess, disposes a man to some degree
of sympathy with all other grandeur, however alien in its quality
or different in its form. And upon this ground we presume the great
Dictator to have had an interest in religious themes by mere compulsion
of his own extraordinary elevation of mind, after making the fullest
allowance for the special quality of that mind, which did certainly, to
the whole extent of its characteristics, tend entirely to estrange him
from such themes. We find, accordingly, that though sincerely a despiser
of superstition, and with a frankness which must sometimes have been
hazardous in that age, Cæsar was himself also superstitious. No man
could have been otherwise who lived and conversed with that generation
and people. But if superstitious, he was so after a mode of his own.
In his very infirmities Cæsar manifested his greatness: his very
littlenesses were noble.

  "Nec licuit populis parvum te, Nile, videre."

That he placed some confidence in dreams, for instance, is certain:
because, had he slighted them unreservedly, he would not have dwelt upon
them afterwards, or have troubled himself to recall their circumstances.
Here we trace his human weakness. Yet again we are reminded that it was
the weakness of Cæsar; for the dreams were noble in their imagery,
and Cæsarean (so to speak) in their tone of moral feeling. Thus, for
example, the night before he was assassinated, he dreamt at intervals
that he was soaring above the clouds on wings, and that he placed his
hand within the right hand of Jove. It would seem that perhaps some
obscure and half-formed image floated in his mind, of the eagle, as
the king of birds; secondly, as the tutelary emblem under which his
conquering legions had so often obeyed his voice; and, thirdly, as the
bird of Jove. To this triple relation of the bird his dream covertly
appears to point. And a singular coincidence appears between this dream
and a little anecdote brought down to us, as having actually occurred in
Rome about twenty-four hours before his death. A little bird, which by
some is represented as a very small kind of sparrow, but which, both to
the Greeks and the Romans, was known by a name implying a regal station
(probably from the ambitious courage which at times prompted it to
attack the eagle), was observed to direct its flight towards the
senate-house, consecrated by Pompey, whilst a crowd of other birds were
seen to hang upon its flight in close pursuit. What might be the object
of the chase, whether the little king himself, or a sprig of laurel
which he bore in his mouth, could not be determined. The whole train,
pursuers and pursued, continued their flight towards Pompey's hall.
Flight and pursuit were there alike arrested; the little king was
overtaken by his enemies, who fell upon him as so many conspirators, and
tore him limb from limb.

If this anecdote were reported to Cæsar, which is not at all improbable,
considering the earnestness with which his friends labored to dissuade
him from his purpose of meeting the senate on the approaching Ides of
March, it is very little to be doubted that it had a considerable effect
upon his feelings, and that, in fact, his own dream grew out of the
impression which it had made. This way of linking the two anecdotes,
as cause and effect, would also bring a third anecdote under the same
_nexus_. We are told that Calpurnia, the last wife of Cæsar, dreamed
on the same night, and to the same ominous result. The circumstances
of _her_ dream are less striking, because less figurative; but on that
account its import was less open to doubt: she dreamed, in fact, that
after the roof of their mansion had fallen in, her husband was stabbed
in her bosom. Laying all these omens together, Cæsar would have been
more or less than human had he continued utterly undepressed by them.
And if so much superstition as even this implies, must be taken to argue
some little weakness, on the other hand let it not be forgotten, that
this very weakness does but the more illustrate the unusual force of
mind, and the heroic will, which obstinately laid aside these concurring
prefigurations of impending destruction; concurring, we say, amongst
themselves—and concurring also with a prophecy of older date, which was
totally independent of them all.

There is another and somewhat sublime story of the same class, which
belongs to the most interesting moment of Cæsar's life; and those who
are disposed to explain all such tales upon physiological principles,
will find an easy solution of this, in particular, in the exhaustion
of body, and the intense anxiety which must have debilitated even Cæsar
under the whole circumstances of the case. On the ever memorable night
when he had resolved to take the first step (and in such a case the
first step, as regarded the power of retreating, was also the final
step) which placed him in arms against the state, it happened that his
headquarters were at some distance from the little river Rubicon, which
formed the boundary of his province. With his usual caution, that no
news of his motions might run before himself, on this night Cæsar gave
an entertainment to his friends, in the midst of which he slipped away
unobserved, and with a small retinue proceeded through the woods to the
point of the river at which he designed to cross. The night [Footnote:
It is an interesting circumstance in the habits of the ancient Romans,
that their journeys were pursued very much in the night-time, and by
torchlight. Cicero, in one of his letters, speaks of passing through
the towns of Italy by night, as a serviceable scheme for some political
purpose, either of avoiding too much to publish his motions, or of
evading the necessity (else perhaps not avoidable), of drawing out the
party sentiments of the magistrates in the circumstances of honor or
neglect with which they might choose to receive him. His words, however,
imply that the practice was by no means an uncommon one. And, indeed,
from some passages in writers of the Augustan era, it would seem that
this custom was not confined to people of distinction, but was familiar
to a class of travellers so low in rank as to be capable of abusing
their opportunities of concealment for the infliction of wanton injury
upon the woods and fences which bounded the margin, of the high-road.
Under the cloud of night and solitude, the mischief-loving traveller
was often in the habit of applying his torch to the withered boughs of
woods, or to artificial hedges; and extensive ravages by fire, such as
now happen, not unfrequently in the American woods, (but generally from
carelessness in scattering the glowing embers of a fire, or even the
ashes of a pipe,) were then occasionally the result of mere wantonness
of mischief. Ovid accordingly notices, as one amongst the familiar
images of daybreak, the half-burnt torch of the traveller; and,
apparently, from the position which it holds in his description,
where it is ranked with the most familiar of all circumstances in
all countries,--that of the rural laborer going out to his morning
tasks,--it must have been common indeed:

  "Semiustamque facem vigilatâ nocte viator
  Ponet; et ad solitum rusticus ibit opus."

This occurs in the _Fasti_;--elsewhere he notices it for its danger:

  "Ut facibus sepes ardent, cum forte viator
  Vel nimis admovit, vel jam sub luce reliquit."

He, however, we see, good-naturedly ascribes the danger to mere
carelessness, in bringing the torch too near to the hedge, or tossing
it away at daybreak. But Varro, a more matter-of-fact observer, does not
disguise the plain truth, that these disasters were often the product of
pure malicious frolic. For instance, in recommending a certain kind of
quickset fence, he insists upon it, as one of its advantages, that it
will not readily ignite under the torch of the mischievous wayfarer:
"Naturale sepimentum," says he, "quod obseri solet virgultis aut spinis,
_prætereuntis lascivi non metuet facem._" It is not easy to see the
origin or advantage of this practice of nocturnal travelling (which must
have considerably increased the hazards of a journey), excepting only in
the heats of summer. It is probable, however, that men of high rank
and public station may have introduced the practice by way of releasing
corporate bodies in large towns from the burdensome ceremonies of public
receptions; thus making a compromise between their own dignity and
the convenience of the provincial public. Once introduced, and the
arrangements upon the road for meeting the wants of travellers once
adapted to such a practice, it would easily become universal. It is,
however, very possible that mere horror of the heats of day-time may
have been the original ground for it. The ancients appear to have shrunk
from no hardship so trying and insufferable as that of heat. And in
relation to that subject, it is interesting to observe the way in which
the ordinary use of language has accommodated itself to that feeling.
Our northern way of expressing effeminacy is derived chiefly from the
hardships of cold. He that shrinks from the trials and rough experience
of real life in any department, is described by the contemptuous prefix
of _chimney-corner_, as if shrinking from the cold which he would
meet on coming out into the open air amongst his fellow-men. Thus,
a _chimney-corner_ politician, for a mere speculator or unpractical
dreamer. But the very same indolent habit of aerial speculation, which
courts no test of real life and practice, is described by the ancients
under the term _umbraticus_, or seeking the cool shade, and shrinking
from the heat. Thus, an _umbraticus doctor_ is one who has no practical
solidity in his teaching. The fatigue and hardship of real life, in
short, is represented by the ancients under the uniform image of heat,
and by the moderns under that of cold.] was stormy, and by the violence
of the wind all the torches of his escort were blown out, so that the
whole party lost their road, having probably at first intentionally
deviated from the main route, and wandered about through the whole
night, until the early dawn enabled them to recover their true course.
The light was still gray and uncertain, as Cæsar and his retinue rode
down upon the banks of the fatal river--to cross which with arms in his
hands, since the further bank lay within the territory of the Republic,
_ipso facto_ proclaimed any Roman a rebel and a traitor. No man, the
firmest or the most obtuse, could be otherwise than deeply agitated,
when looking down upon this little brook--so insignificant in
itself, but invested by law with a sanctity so awful, and so dire a
consecration. The whole course of future history, and the fate of every
nation, would necessarily be determined by the irretrievable act of the
next half hour.

In these moments, and with this spectacle before him, and contemplating
these immeasurable consequences consciously for the last time that
could allow him a retreat,--impressed also by the solemnity and deep
tranquillity of the silent dawn, whilst the exhaustion of his night
wanderings predisposed him to nervous irritation,--Cæsar, we may be
sure, was profoundly agitated. The whole elements of the scene were
almost scenically disposed; the law of antagonism having perhaps never
been employed with so much effect: the little quiet brook presenting a
direct, antithesis to its grand political character; and the innocent
dawn, with its pure, untroubled repose, contrasting potently, to a
man of any intellectual sensibility, with the long chaos of bloodshed,
darkness, and anarchy, which was to take its rise from the apparently
trifling acts of this one morning. So prepared, we need not much wonder
at what followed. Cæsar was yet lingering on the hither bank, when
suddenly, at a point not far distant from himself, an apparition was
descried in a sitting posture, and holding in its hand what seemed a
flute. This phantom was of unusual size, and of beauty more than human,
so far as its lineaments could be traced in the early dawn. What is
singular, however, in the story, on any hypothesis which would explain
it out of Cæsar's individual condition, is, that others saw it as well
as he; both pastoral laborers, (who were present, probably, in the
character of guides,) and some of the sentinels stationed at the passage
of the river. These men fancied even that a strain of music issued
from this aerial flute. And some, both of the shepherds and the Roman
soldiers, who were bolder than the rest, advanced towards the figure.
Amongst this party, it happened that there were a few Roman trumpeters.
From one of these, the phantom, rising as they advanced nearer, suddenly
caught a trumpet, and blowing through it a blast of superhuman strength,
plunged into the Rubicon, passed to the other bank, and disappeared
in the dusky twilight of the dawn. Upon which Cæsar exclaimed:--"It is
finished--the die is cast--let us follow whither the guiding portents
from Heaven, and the malice of our enemy, alike summon us to go." So
saying, he crossed the river with impetuosity; and, in a sudden rapture
of passionate and vindictive ambition, placed himself and his retinue
upon the Italian soil; and, as if by inspiration from Heaven, in
one moment involved himself and his followers in treason, raised
the standard of revolt, put his foot upon the neck of the invincible
republic which had humbled all the kings of the earth, and founded an
empire which was to last for a thousand and half a thousand years. In
what manner this spectral appearance was managed--whether Cæsar were its
author, or its dupe--will remain unknown for ever. But undoubtedly this
was the first time that the advanced guard of a victorious army was
headed by an apparition; and we may conjecture that it will be the last.
[Footnote: According to Suetonius, the circumstances of this memorable
night were as follows:--As soon as the decisive intelligence was
received, that the intrigues of his enemies had prevailed at Rome, and
that the interposition of the popular magistrates (the tribunes) was
set aside, Cæsar sent forward the troops, who were then at his
head-quarters, but in as private a manner as possible. He himself, by
way of masque, (_per dissimulationem_,) attended a public spectacle,
gave an audience to an architect who wished to lay before him a plan
for a school of gladiators which Cæsar designed to build, and finally
presented himself at a banquet, which was very numerously attended. From
this, about sunset, he set forward in a carriage, drawn by mules, and
with a small escort (_modico comitatu_.) Losing his road, which was the
most private he could find (_occultissimum_), he quitted his carriage
and proceeded on foot. At dawn he met with a guide; after which followed
the above incidents.]

In the mingled yarn of human life, tragedy is never far asunder from
farce; and it is amusing to retrace in immediate succession to this
incident of epic dignity, which has its only parallel by the way in the
case of Vasco de Gama, (according to the narrative of Camoens,) when met
and confronted by a sea phantom, whilst attempting to double the Cape
of Storms, (Cape of Good Hope,) a ludicrous passage, in which one
felicitous blunder did Cæsar a better service than all the truths which
Greece and Rome could have furnished. In our own experience, we once
witnessed a blunder about as gross. The present Chancellor, in his first
electioneering contest with the Lowthers, upon some occasion where he
was recriminating upon the other party, and complaining that stratagems,
which _they_ might practise with impunity, were denied to him and his,
happened to point the moral of his complaint, by alleging the old adage,
that one man might steal a horse with more hope of indulgence than
another could look over the hedge. Whereupon, by benefit of the
universal mishearing in the outermost ring of the audience, it became
generally reported that Lord Lowther had once been engaged in an affair
of horse stealing; and that he, Henry Brougham, could (had he pleased)
have lodged an information against him, seeing that he was then looking
over the hedge. And this charge naturally won the more credit, because
it was notorious and past denying that his lordship was a capital
horseman, fond of horses, and much connected with the turf. To this
hour, therefore, amongst some worthy shepherds and others, it is a
received article of their creed, and (as they justly observe in northern
pronunciation,) a _sham_ful thing to be told, that Lord Lowther was
once a horse stealer, and that he escaped _lagging_ by reason of Harry
Brougham's pity for his tender years and hopeful looks. Not less was
the blunder which, on the banks of the Rubicon, befriended Cæsar.
Immediately after crossing, he harangued the troops whom he had sent
forward, and others who there met him from the neighboring garrison
of Ariminium. The tribunes of the people, those great officers of the
democracy, corresponding by some of their functions to our House of
Commons, men personally, and by their position in the state, entirely in
his interest, and who, for his sake, had fled from home, there and then
he produced to the soldiery; thus identified his cause, and that of the
soldiers, with the cause of the people of Rome and of Roman liberty; and
perhaps with needless rhetoric attempted to conciliate those who were
by a thousand ties and by claims innumerable, his own already; for never
yet has it been found, that with the soldier, who, from youth upwards,
passes his life in camps, could the duties or the interests of citizens
survive those stronger and more personal relations connecting him with
his military superior. In the course of this harangue, Cæsar often
raised his left hand with Demosthenic action, and once or twice he drew
off the ring, which every Roman gentleman--simply _as_ such--wore as the
inseparable adjunct and symbol of his rank. By this action he wished to
give emphasis to the accompanying words, in which he protested, that,
sooner than fail in satisfying and doing justice to any the least of
those who heard him and followed his fortunes, he would be content to
part with his own birthright, and to forego his dearest claims. This
was what he really said; but the outermost circle of his auditors, who
rather saw his gestures than distinctly heard his words, carried off
the notion, (which they were careful every where to disperse amongst the
legions afterwards associated with them in the same camps,) that Cæsar
had vowed never to lay down his arms until he had obtained for every
man, the very meanest of those who heard him, the rank, privileges and
appointments of a Roman knight. Here was a piece of sovereign good luck.
Had he really made such a promise, Cæsar might have found that he had
laid himself under very embarrassing obligations; but, as the case
stood, he had, through all his following campaigns, the total benefit of
such a promise, and yet could always absolve himself from the penalties
of responsibility which it imposed, by appealing to the evidence of
those who happened to stand in the first ranks of his audience. The
blunder was gross and palpable; and yet, with the unreflecting and
dull-witted soldier, it did him service greater than all the subtilties
of all the schools could have accomplished, and a service which
subsisted to the end of the war.

Great as Cæsar was by the benefit of his original nature, there can--be
no doubt that he, like others, owed something to circumstances; and
perhaps, amongst these which were most favorable to the premature
development of great self-dependence, we must reckon the early death
of his father. It is, or it is not, according to the nature of men, an
advantage to be orphaned at an early age. Perhaps utter orphanage is
rarely or never such: but to lose a father betimes profits a strong mind
greatly. To Cæsar it was a prodigious benefit that he lost his father
when not much more than fifteen. Perhaps it was an advantage also to his
father that he died thus early. Had he stayed a year longer, he would
have seen himself despised, baffled, and made ridiculous. For where, let
us ask, in any age, was the father capable of adequately sustaining that
relation to the unique Caius Julius--to him, in the appropriate language
of Shakspeare,

  "The foremost man of all this world?"

And, in this fine and Cæsarean line, "this world" is to be understood
not of the order of co-existences merely, but also of the order of
successions; he was the foremost man not only of his contemporaries, but
also of men generally--of all that ever should come after him, or should
sit on thrones under the denominations of Czars, Kesars, or Cæsars of
the Bosphorus and the Danube; of all in every age that should inherit
his supremacy of mind, or should subject to themselves the generations
of ordinary men by qualities analogous to his. Of this infinite
superiority some part must be ascribed to his early emancipation from
paternal control. There are very many cases in which, simply from
considerations of sex, a female cannot stand forward as the head of
a family, or as its suitable representative. If they are even ladies
paramount, and in situations of command, they are also women. The staff
of authority does not annihilate their sex; and scruples of female
delicacy interfere for ever to unnerve and emasculate in their hands the
sceptre however otherwise potent. Hence we see, in noble families,
the merest boys put forward to represent the family dignity, as fitter
supporters of that burden than their mature mothers. And of Cæsar's
mother, though little is recorded, and that little incidentally, this
much at least, we learn--that, if she looked down upon him with maternal
pride and delight, she looked up to him with female ambition as the
re-edifier of her husband's honors, with reverence as to a column of
the Roman grandeur, and with fear and feminine anxieties as to one
whose aspiring spirit carried him but too prematurely into the fields
of adventurous honor. One slight and evanescent sketch of the relations
which subsisted between Cæsar and his mother, caught from the wrecks of
time, is preserved both by Plutarch and Suetonius. We see in the
early dawn the young patrician standing upon the steps of his paternal
portico, his mother with her arms wreathed about his neck, looking up to
his noble countenance, sometimes drawing auguries of hope from features
so fitted for command, sometimes boding an early blight to promises so
prematurely magnificent. That she had something of her son's aspiring
character, or that he presumed so much in a mother of his, we learn from
the few words which survive of their conversation. He addressed to her
no language that could tranquillize her fears. On the contrary, to any
but a Roman mother his valedictory words, taken in connection with the
known determination of his character, were of a nature to consummate her
depression, as they tended to confirm the very worst of her fears. He
was then going to stand his chance in a popular election for an office
of dignity, and to launch himself upon the storms of the Campus Martius.
At that period, besides other and more ordinary dangers, the bands of
gladiators, kept in the pay of the more ambitious amongst the Roman
nobles, gave a popular tone of ferocity and of personal risk to the
course of such contests; and either to forestall the victory of an
antagonist, or to avenge their own defeat, it was not at all impossible
that a body of incensed competitors might intercept his final triumph
by assassination. For this danger, however, he had no leisure in his
thoughts of consolation; the sole danger which _he_ contemplated, or
supposed his mother to contemplate, was the danger of defeat, and for
that he reserved his consolations. He bade her fear nothing; for that
without doubt he would return with victory, and with the ensigns of the
dignity he sought, or would return a corpse.

Early indeed did Cæsar's trials commence; and it is probable, that, had
not the death of his father, by throwing him prematurely upon his
own resources, prematurely developed the masculine features of his
character, forcing him whilst yet a boy under the discipline of civil
conflict and the yoke of practical life, even _his_ energies would have
been insufficient to sustain them. His age is not exactly ascertained,
but it is past a doubt that he had not reached his twentieth year when
he had the hardihood to engage in a struggle with Sylla, then Dictator,
and exercising the immoderate powers of that office with the license
and the severity which history has made so memorable. He had neither
any distinct grounds of hope, nor any eminent example at that time, to
countenance him in this struggle--which yet he pushed on in the most
uncompromising style, and to the utmost verge of defiance. The subject
of the contrast gives it a further interest. It was the youthful wife
of the youthful Cæsar who stood under the shadow of the great Dictator's
displeasure; not personally, but politically, on account of her
connections: and her it was, Cornelia, the daughter of a man who had
been four times consul, that Cæsar was required to divorce: but
he spurned the haughty mandate, and carried his determination to a
triumphant issue, notwithstanding his life was at stake, and at one time
saved only by shifting his place of concealment every night; and this
young lady it was who afterwards became the mother of his only daughter.
Both mother and daughter, it is remarkable, perished prematurely, and at
critical periods of Cæsar's life; for it is probable enough that these
irreparable wounds to Cæsar's domestic affections threw him with more
exclusiveness of devotion upon the fascinations of glory and ambition
than might have happened under a happier condition of his private life.
That Cæsar should have escaped destruction in this unequal contest with
an enemy then wielding the whole thunders of the state, is somewhat
surprising; and historians have sought their solution of the mystery in
the powerful intercessions of the vestal virgins, and several others
of high rank amongst the connections of his great house. These may have
done something; but it is due to Sylla, who had a sympathy with every
thing truly noble, to suppose him struck with powerful admiration
for the audacity of the young patrician, standing out in such severe
solitude among so many examples of timid concession; and that to this
magnanimous feeling in the Dictator, much of his indulgence was due. In
fact, according to some accounts, it was not Sylla, but the creatures
of Sylla (_adjutores_), who pursued Cæsar. We know, at all events, that
Sylla formed a right estimate of Cæsar's character, and that, from
the complexion of his conduct in this one instance, he drew his famous
prophecy of his future destiny; bidding his friends beware of that
slipshod boy, "for that in him lay couchant many a Marius." A grander
testimony to the awe which Cæsar inspired, or from one who knew better
the qualities of that man by whom he measured him, cannot be imagined.

It is not our intention, or consistent with our plan, to pursue this
great man through the whole circumstances of his romantic career; though
it is certain that many parts of his life require investigation much
keener than has ever been applied to them, and that many might easily be
placed in a new light. Indeed, the whole of this most momentous section
of ancient history ought to be recomposed with the critical scepticism
of a Niebuhr, and the same comprehensive collation of authorities. In
reality it is the hinge upon which turned the future destiny of the
whole earth, and having therefore a common relation to all modern
nations whatsoever, should naturally have been cultivated with the zeal
which belongs to a personal concern. In general, the anecdotes which
express most vividly the splendid character of the first Cæsar, are
those which illustrate his defiance of danger in extremity,--the
prodigious energy and rapidity of his decisions and motions in the
field; the skill with which he penetrated the designs of his enemies,
and the exemplary speed with which he provided a remedy for disasters;
the extraordinary presence of mind which he showed in turning adverse
omens to his own advantage, as when, upon stumbling in coming on shore,
(which was esteemed a capital omen of evil,) he transfigured as it
were in one instant its whole meaning by exclaiming, "Thus do I take
possession of thee, oh Africa!" in that way giving to an accident the
semblance of a symbolic purpose; the grandeur of fortitude with which he
faced the whole extent of a calamity when palliation could do no good,
"non negando, minuendove, sed insuper amplificando, _ementiendoque_;"
as when, upon finding his soldiery alarmed at the approach of Juba, with
forces really great, but exaggerated by their terrors, he addressed them
in a military harangue to the following effect: "Know that within a few
days the king will come up with us, bringing with him sixty thousand
legionaries, thirty thousand cavalry, one hundred thousand light troops,
besides three hundred elephants. Such being the case, let me hear no
more of conjectures and opinions, for you have now my warrant for the
fact, whose information is past doubting. Therefore, be satisfied;
otherwise, I will put every man of you on board some crazy old fleet,
and whistle you down the tide--no matter under what winds, no matter
towards what shore." Finally, we might seek for the _characteristic_
anecdotes of Cæsar in his unexampled liberalities and contempt of money.
[Footnote: Middleton's Life of Cicero, which still continues to be the
most readable digest of these affairs, is feeble and contradictory. He
discovers that Cæsar was no general! And the single merit which his work
was supposed to possess, viz. the better and more critical arrangement
of Cicero's Letters, in respect to their chronology, has of late years
been detected as a robbery from the celebrated Bellenden, of James the
First's time.]

Upon this last topic it is the just remark of Casaubon, that some
instances of Cæsar's munificence have been thought apocryphal, or to
rest upon false readings, simply from ignorance of the heroic scale upon
which the Roman splendors of that age proceeded. A forum which Cæsar
built out of the products of his last campaign, by way of a present
to the Roman people, cost him--for the ground merely on which it
stood--nearly eight hundred thousand pounds. To the _citizens_ of Rome
(perhaps 300,000 persons) he presented, in one _congiary_, about two
guineas and a half a head. To his army, in one _donation_, upon the
termination of the civil war, he gave a sum which allowed about two
hundred pounds a man to the infantry, and four hundred to the cavalry.
It is true that the legionary troops were then much reduced by the sword
of the enemy, and by the tremendous hardships of their last campaigns.
In this, however, he did perhaps no more than repay a debt. For it is
an instance of military attachment, beyond all that Wallenstein or any
commander, the most beloved amongst his troops, has ever experienced,
that, on the breaking out of the civil war, not only did the centurions
of every legion severally maintain a horse soldier, but even the
privates volunteered to serve without pay--and (what might seem
impossible) without their daily rations. This was accomplished by
subscriptions amongst themselves, the more opulent undertaking for the
maintenance of the needy. Their disinterested love for Cæsar appeared in
another and more difficult illustration: it was a traditionary anecdote
in Rome, that the majority of those amongst Cæsar's troops, who had the
misfortune to fall into the enemy's hands, refused to accept their lives
under the condition of serving against _him_.

In connection with this subject of his extraordinary munificence,
there is one aspect of Cæsar's life which has suffered much from the
misrepresentations of historians, and that is--the vast pecuniary
embarrassments under which he labored, until the profits of war had
turned the scale even more prodigiously in his favor. At one time of his
life, when appointed to a foreign office, so numerous and so clamorous
were his creditors, that he could not have left Rome on his public
duties, had not Crassus come forward with assistance in money, or by
promises, to the amount of nearly two hundred thousand pounds. And at
another, he was accustomed to amuse himself with computing how much
money it would require to make him worth exactly nothing (_i. e._ simply
to clear him of debts); this, by one account, amounted to upwards of two
millions sterling. Now the error of historians has been--to represent
these debts as the original ground of his ambition and his revolutionary
projects, as though the desperate condition of his private affairs had
suggested a civil war to his calculations as the best or only mode of
redressing it. But, on the contrary, his debts were the product of
his ambition, and contracted from first to last in the service of his
political intrigues, for raising and maintaining a powerful body of
partisans, both in Rome and elsewhere. Whosoever indeed will take the
trouble to investigate the progress of Cæsar's ambition, from such
materials as even yet remain, may satisfy himself that the scheme of
revolutionizing the Republic, and placing himself at its head, was no
growth of accident or circumstances; above all, that it did not arise
upon any so petty and indirect an occasion as that of his debts; but
that his debts were in their very first origin purely ministerial to his
ambition; and that his revolutionary plans were at all periods of his
life a direct and foremost object. In this there was in reality no want
of patriotism; it had become evident to every body that Rome, under its
present constitution, must fall; and the sole question was--by whom?
Even Pompey, not by nature of an aspiring turn, and prompted to his
ambitious course undoubtedly by circumstances and the friends who
besieged him, was in the habit of saying, "Sylla potuit, ego non
potero?" And the fact was, that if, from the death of Sylla, Rome
recovered some transient show of constitutional integrity, that happened
not by any lingering virtue that remained in her republican forms, but
entirely through the equilibrium and mechanical counterpoise of rival

In a case, therefore, where no benefit of choice was allowed to Rome as
to the thing, but only as to the person--where a revolution was certain,
and the point left open to doubt simply by whom that revolution should
be accomplished--Cæsar had (to say the least) the same right to enter
the arena in the character of candidate as could belong to any one of
his rivals. And that he _did_ enter that arena constructively, and by
secret design, from his very earliest manhood, may be gathered from
this--that he suffered no openings towards a revolution, provided they
had any hope in them, to escape his participation. It is familiarly
known that he was engaged pretty deeply in the conspiracy of Catiline,
[Footnote: Suetonius, speaking of this conspiracy, says, that Cæsar was
_nominatos inter socios Catilinæ_, which has been erroneously understood
to mean that he was _talked of_ as an accomplice; but in fact, as
Casaubon first pointed out, _nominatus_ is a technical term of the Roman
jurisprudence, and means that he was formally denounced.] and that he
incurred considerable risk on that occasion; but it is less known, and
has indeed escaped the notice of historians generally, that he was
a party to at least two other conspiracies. There was even a fourth,
meditated by Crassus, which Cæsar so far encouraged as to undertake a
journey to Rome from a very distant quarter, merely with a view to such
chances as it might offer to him; but as it did not, upon examination,
seem to him a very promising scheme, he judged it best to look coldly
upon it, or not to embark in it by any personal co-operation. Upon these
and other facts we build our inference--that the scheme of a revolution
was the one great purpose of Cæsar, from his first entrance upon public
life. Nor does it appear that he cared much by whom it was undertaken,
provided only there seemed to be any sufficient resources for carrying
it through, and for sustaining the first collision with the regular
forces of the existing government. He relied, it seems, on his own
personal superiority for raising him to the head of affairs eventually,
let who would take the nominal lead at first. To the same result, it
will be found, tended the vast stream of Cæsar's liberalities. From the
senator downwards to the lowest _fæx Romuli_, he had a hired body of
dependents, both in and out of Rome, equal in numbers to a nation. In
the provinces, and in distant kingdoms, he pursued the same schemes.
Every where he had a body of mercenary partisans; kings are known to
have taken his pay. And it is remarkable that even in his character of
commander in chief, where the number of legions allowed to him for the
accomplishment of his mission raised him for a number of years above all
fear of coercion or control, he persevered steadily in the same plan of
providing for the day when he might need assistance, not from the state,
but _against_ the state. For amongst the private anecdotes which came
to light under the researches made into his history after his death, was
this--that, soon after his first entrance upon his government in Gaul,
he had raised, equipped, disciplined, and maintained, from his own
private funds, a legion amounting, perhaps, to six or seven thousand
men, who were bound by no sacrament of military obedience to the state,
nor owed fealty to any auspices except those of Cæsar. This legion, from
the fashion of their crested helmets, which resembled the crested heads
of a small bird of the lark species, received the popular name of
the _Alauda_ (or Lark) legion. And very singular it was that Cato,
or Marcellus, or some amongst those enemies of Cæsar, who watched his
conduct during the period of his Gaulish command with the vigilance of
rancorous malice, should not have come to the knowledge of this fact;
in which case we may be sure that it would have been denounced to the

Such, then, for its purpose and its uniform motive, was the sagacious
munificence of Cæsar. Apart from this motive, and considered in and for
itself, and simply with a reference to the splendid forms which it often
assumed, this munificence would furnish the materials for a volume. The
public entertainments of Cæsar, his spectacles and shows, his naumachiæ,
and the pomps of his unrivalled triumphs, (the closing triumphs of the
Republic,) were severally the finest of their kind which had then been
brought forward. Sea-fights were exhibited upon the grandest scale,
according to every known variety of nautical equipment and mode of
conflict, upon a vast lake formed artificially for that express purpose.
Mimic land-fights were conducted, in which all the circumstances of real
war were so faithfully rehearsed, that even elephants "indorsed with
towers," twenty on each side, took part in the combat. Dramas
were represented in every known language, (_per omnium linguarum
histriones_.) And hence [that is, from the conciliatory feeling thus
expressed towards the various tribes of foreigners resident in
Rome] some have derived an explanation of what is else a mysterious
circumstance amongst the ceremonial observances at Cæsar's funeral--that
all people of foreign nations then residing at Rome, distinguished
themselves by the conspicuous share which they took in the public
mourning; and that, beyond all other foreigners, the Jews for night
after night kept watch and ward about the emperor's grave. Never before,
according to traditions which lasted through several generations in
Rome, had there been so vast a conflux of the human race congregated to
any one centre, on any one attraction of business or of pleasure, as to
Rome, on occasion of these spectacles exhibited by Cæsar.

In our days, the greatest occasional gatherings of the human race are
in India, especially at the great fair of the _Hurdwar_, in the northern
part of Hindostan; a confluence of many millions is sometimes seen at
that spot, brought together under the mixed influences of devotion and
commercial business, and dispersed as rapidly as they had been convoked.
Some such spectacle of nations crowding upon nations, and some such
Babylonian confusion of dresses, complexions, languages, and jargons,
was then witnessed at Rome. Accommodations within doors, and under roofs
of houses, or of temples, was altogether impossible. Myriads encamped
along the streets, and along the high-roads in the vicinity of Rome.
Myriads of myriads lay stretched on the ground, without even the slight
protection of tents, in a vast circuit about the city. Multitudes of
men, even senators, and others of the highest rank, were trampled to
death in the crowds. And the whole family of man seemed at that time
gathered together at the bidding of the great Dictator. But these, or
any other themes connected with the public life of Cæsar, we notice
only in those circumstances which have been overlooked, or partially
represented by historians. Let us now, in conclusion, bring forward,
from the obscurity in which they have hitherto lurked, the anecdotes
which describe the habits of his private life, his tastes, and personal

In person, he was tall, fair, and of limbs distinguished for their
elegant proportions and gracility. His eyes were black and piercing.
These circumstances continued to be long remembered, and no doubt were
constantly recalled to the eyes of all persons in the imperial palaces,
by pictures, busts, and statues; for we find the same description of his
personal appearance three centuries afterwards, in a work of the
Emperor Julian's. He was a most accomplished horseman, and a master
(_peritissimus_) in the use of arms. But, notwithstanding his skill in
horsemanship, it seems that, when he accompanied his army on marches, he
walked oftener than he rode; no doubt, with a view to the benefit of his
example, and to express that sympathy with his soldiers which gained him
their hearts so entirely. On other occasions, when travelling apart from
his army, he seems more frequently to have rode in a carriage than on
horseback. His purpose, in making this preference, must have been with
a view to the transport of luggage. The carriage which he generally
used was a _rheda_, a sort of gig, or rather curricle, for it was
a four-wheeled carriage, and adapted (as we find from the imperial
regulations for the public carriages, &c.) to the conveyance of about
half a ton. The mere personal baggage which Cæsar carried with him, was
probably considerable, for he was a man of the most elegant habits, and
in all parts of his life sedulously attentive to elegance of personal
appearance. The length of journeys which he accomplished within a given
time, appears even to us at this day, and might well therefore appear to
his contemporaries, truly astonishing. A distance of one hundred miles
was no extraordinary day's journey for him in a _rheda_, such as we have
described it. So elegant were his habits, and so constant his demand
for the luxurious accommodations of polished life, as it then existed in
Rome, that he is said to have carried with him, as indispensable parts
of his personal baggage, the little lozenges and squares of ivory, and
other costly materials, which were wanted for the tessellated flooring
of his tent. Habits such as these will easily account for his travelling
in a carriage rather than on horseback.

The courtesy and obliging disposition of Cæsar were notorious, and both
were illustrated in some anecdotes which survived for generations
in Rome. Dining on one occasion at a table, where the servants had
inadvertently, for salad-oil, furnished some sort of coarse lamp-oil,
Cæsar would not allow the rest of the company to point out the mistake
to their host, for fear of shocking him too much by exposing the
mistake. At another time, whilst halting at a little _cabaret_, when
one of his retinue was suddenly taken ill, Cæsar resigned to his use
the sole bed which the house afforded. Incidents, as trifling as these,
express the urbanity of Cæsar's nature; and, hence, one is the more
surprised to find the alienation of the senate charged, in no trifling
degree, upon a failure in point of courtesy. Cæsar neglected to rise
from his seat, on their approaching him in a body with an address of
congratulation. It is said, and we can believe it, that he gave deeper
offence by this one defect in a matter of ceremonial observance, than
by all his substantial attacks upon their privileges. What we find it
difficult to believe, however, is not that result from the offence, but
the possibility of the offence itself, from one so little arrogant as
Cæsar, and so entirely a man of the world. He was told of the disgust
which he had given, and we are bound to believe his apology, in which
he charged it upon sickness, which would not at the moment allow him to
maintain a standing attitude. Certainly the whole tenor of his life was
not courteous only, but kind; and, to his enemies, merciful in a
degree which implied so much more magnanimity than men in general could
understand, that by many it was put down to the account of weakness.

Weakness, however, there was none in Caius Cæsar; and, that there might
be none, it was fortunate that conspiracy should have cut him off in the
full vigor of his faculties, in the very meridian of his glory, and on
the brink of completing a series of gigantic achievements. Amongst these
are numbered--a digest of the entire body of laws, even then become
unwieldy and oppressive; the establishment of vast and comprehensive
public libraries, Greek as well as Latin; the chastisement of Dacia; the
conquest of Parthia; and the cutting a ship canal through the Isthmus
of Corinth. The reformation of the calendar he had already accomplished.
And of all his projects it may be said, that they were equally patriotic
in their purpose, and colossal in their proportions.

As an orator, Cæsar's merit was so eminent, that, according to the
general belief, had he found time to cultivate this department of
civil exertion, the precise supremacy of Cicero would have been made
questionable, or the honors would have been divided. Cicero himself
was of that opinion; and on different occasions applied the epithet
_Splendidus_ to Cæsar, as though in some exclusive sense, or with a
peculiar emphasis, due to him. His taste was much simpler, chaster, and
disinclined to the _florid_ and ornamental, than that of Cicero. So far
he would, in that condition of the Roman culture and feeling, have been
less acceptable to the public; but, on the other hand, he would have
compensated this disadvantage by much more of natural and Demosthenic

In literature, the merits of Cæsar are familiar to most readers. Under
the modest title of _Commentaries_, he meant to offer the records of his
Gallic and British campaigns, simply as notes, or memoranda, afterwards
to be worked up by regular historians; but, as Cicero observes, their
merit was such in the eyes of the discerning, that all judicious writers
shrank from the attempt to alter them. In another instance of his
literary labors, he showed a very just sense of true dignity. Rightly
conceiving that every thing patriotic was dignified, and that to
illustrate or polish his native language, was a service of real
patriotism, he composed a work on the grammar and orthoepy of the Latin
language. Cicero and himself were the only Romans of distinction in
that age, who applied themselves with true patriotism to the task of
purifying and ennobling their mother tongue. Both were aware of the
transcendent quality of the Grecian literature; but that splendor did
not depress their hopes of raising their own to something of the same
level. As respected the natural wealth of the two languages, it was
the private opinion of Cicero, that the Latin had the advantage; and if
Cæsar did not accompany him to that length, he yet felt that it was but
the more necessary to draw forth any single advantage which it really
had. [Footnote: Cæsar had the merit of being the first person to propose
the daily publication of the acts and votes of the senate. In the form
of public and official dispatches, he made also some useful innovations;
and it may be mentioned, for the curiosity of the incident, that the
cipher which he used in his correspondence, was the following very
simple one:--For every letter of the alphabet he substituted that which
stood fourth removed from it in the order of succession. Thus, for A, he
used D; for D, G, and so on.]

Was Cæsar, upon the whole, the greatest of men? Dr. Beattie once
observed, that if that question were left to be collected from the
suffrages already expressed in books, and scattered throughout the
literature of all nations, the scale would be found to have turned
prodigiously in Cæsar's favor, as against any single competitor; and
there is no doubt whatsoever, that even amongst his own countrymen, and
his own contemporaries, the same verdict would have been returned, had
it been collected upon the famous principle of Themistocles, that _he_
should be reputed the first, whom the greatest number of rival voices
had pronounced the second.


The situation of the Second Cæsar, at the crisis of the great Dictator's
assassination, was so hazardous and delicate, as to confer interest upon
a character not otherwise attractive. To many, we know it was positively
repulsive, and in the very highest degree. In particular, it is recorded
of Sir William Jones, that he regarded this emperor with feelings of
abhorrence so _personal_ and deadly, as to refuse him his customary
titular honors whenever he had occasion to mention him by name. Yet
it was the whole Roman people that conferred upon him his title of
_Augustus_. But Sir William, ascribing no force to the acts of a people
who had sunk so low as to exult in their chains, and to decorate with
honors the very instruments of their own vassalage, would not recognise
this popular creation, and spoke of him always by his family name
of Octavius. The flattery of the populace, by the way, must, in this
instance, have been doubly acceptable to the emperor, first, for what it
gave, and secondly, for what it concealed. Of his grand-uncle, the first
Cæsar, a tradition survives--that of all the distinctions created in his
favor, either by the senate or the people, he put most value upon
the laurel crown which was voted to him after his last campaigns--a
beautiful and conspicuous memorial to every eye of his great public
acts, and at the same time an overshadowing veil of his one sole
personal defect. This laurel diadem at once proclaimed his civic
grandeur, and concealed his baldness, a defect which was more mortifying
to a Roman than it would be to ourselves, from the peculiar theory which
then prevailed as to its probable origin. A gratitude of the same mixed
quality must naturally have been felt by the Second Cæsar for his title
of _Augustus_, which, whilst it illustrated his public character by
the highest expression of majesty, set apart and sequestrated to public
functions, had also the agreeable effect of withdrawing from the general
remembrance his obscure descent. For the Octavian house [_gens_] had
in neither of its branches risen to any great splendor of civic
distinction, and in his own, to little or none. The same titular
decoration, therefore, so offensive to the celebrated Whig, was, in the
eyes of Augustus, at once a trophy of public merit, a monument of public
gratitude, and an effectual obliteration of his own natal obscurity.

But, if merely odious to men of Sir William's principles, to others the
character of Augustus, in relation to the circumstances which surrounded
him, was not without its appropriate interest. He was summoned in early
youth, and without warning, to face a crisis of tremendous hazard, being
at the same time himself a man of no very great constitutional courage;
perhaps he was even a coward. And this we say without meaning to adopt
as gospel truths all the party reproaches of Anthony. Certainly he was
utterly unfurnished by nature with those endowments which seemed to be
indispensable in a successor to the power of the great Dictator. But
exactly in these deficiencies, and in certain accidents unfavorable to
his ambition, lay his security. He had been adopted by his grand-uncle,
Julius. That adoption made him, to all intents and purposes of law, the
son of his great patron; and doubtless, in a short time, this adoption
would have been applied to more extensive uses, and as a station of
vantage for introducing him to the public favor. From the inheritance
of the Julian estates and family honors, he would have been trained to
mount, as from a stepping-stone, to the inheritance of the Julian power
and political station; and the Roman people would have been familiarized
to regard him in that character. But, luckily for himself, the
finishing, or ceremonial acts, were yet wanting in this process--the
political heirship was inchoate and imperfect. Tacitly understood,
indeed, it was; but, had it been formally proposed and ratified, there
cannot be a doubt that the young Octavius would have been pointed out
to the vengeance of the patriots, and included in the scheme of the
conspirators, as a fellow-victim with his nominal father; and would have
been cut off too suddenly to benefit by that reaction of popular
feeling which saved the partisans of the Dictator, by separating the
conspirators, and obliging them, without loss of time, to look to their
own safety. It was by this fortunate accident that the young heir and
adopted son of the first Cæsar not only escaped assassination, but was
enabled to postpone indefinitely the final and military struggle for the
vacant seat of empire, and in the mean time to maintain a coequal rank
with the leaders in the state, by those arts and resources in which he
was superior to his competitors. His place in the favor of Caius Julius
was of power sufficient to give him a share in any triumvirate which
could be formed; but, wanting the formality of a regular introduction to
the people, and the ratification of their acceptance, that place was
not sufficient to raise him permanently into the perilous and invidious
station of absolute supremacy which he afterwards occupied. The
_felicity_ of Augustus was often vaunted by antiquity, (with whom
success was not so much a test of merit as itself a merit of the highest
quality,) and in no instance was this felicity more conspicuous than
in the first act of his entrance upon the political scene. No doubt
his friends and enemies alike thought of him, at the moment of Cæsar's
assassination, as we now think of a young man heir-elect to some person
of immense wealth, cut off by a sudden death before he has had time to
ratify a will in execution of his purposes. Yet in fact the case was far
otherwise. Brought forward distinctly as the successor of Cæsar's
power, had he even, by some favorable accident of absence from Rome, or
otherwise, escaped being involved in that great man's fate, he would at
all events have been thrown upon the instant necessity of defending his
supreme station by arms. To have left it unasserted, when once
solemnly created in his favor by a reversionary title, would have been
deliberately to resign it. This would have been a confession of weakness
liable to no disguise, and ruinous to any subsequent pretensions. Yet,
without preparation of means, with no development of resources nor
growth of circumstances, an appeal to arms would, in his case, have been
of very doubtful issue. His true weapons, for a long period, were the
arts of vigilance and dissimulation. Cultivating these, he was enabled
to prepare for a contest which, undertaken prematurely, must have ruined
him, and to raise himself to a station of even military pre-eminence
to those who naturally, and by circumstances, were originally every way
superior to himself.

The qualities in which he really excelled, the gifts of intrigue,
patience, long-suffering, dissimulation, and tortuous fraud, were thus
brought into play, and allowed their full value. Such qualities
had every chance of prevailing in the long run, against the noble
carelessness and the impetuosity of the passionate Anthony--and they
_did_ prevail. Always on the watch to lay hold of those opportunities
which the generous negligence of his rival was but too frequently
throwing in his way--unless by the sudden reverses of war and the
accidents of battle, which as much as possible, and as long as possible,
he declined--there could be little question in any man's mind, that
eventually he would win his way to a solitary throne, by a policy so
full of caution and subtlety. He was sure to risk nothing which could be
had on easier terms; and nothing, unless for a great overbalance of gain
in prospect; to lose nothing which he had once gained; and in no case to
miss an advantage, or sacrifice an opportunity, by any consideration
of generosity. No modern insurance office but would have guaranteed an
event depending upon the final success of Augustus, on terms far below
those which they must in prudence have exacted from the fiery and
adventurous Anthony. Each was an ideal in his own class. But Augustus,
having finally triumphed, has met with more than justice from succeeding
ages. Even Lord Bacon says, that, by comparison with Julius Cæsar, he
was "_non tam impar quam dispar_," surely a most extravagant encomium,
applied to whomsoever. On the other hand, Anthony, amongst the most
signal misfortunes of his life, might number it, that Cicero, the great
dispenser of immortality, in whose hands (more perhaps than in any one
man's of any age) were the vials of good and evil fame, should happen to
have been his bitter and persevering enemy. It is, however, some balance
to this, that Shakspeare had a just conception of the original grandeur
which lay beneath that wild tempestuous nature presented by Anthony to
the eye of the undiscriminating world. It is to the honor of Shakspeare,
that he should have been able to discern the true coloring of this most
original character, under the smoke and tarnish of antiquity. It is no
less to the honor of the great triumvir, that a strength of coloring
should survive in his character, capable of baffling the wrongs and
ravages of time. Neither is it to be thought strange that a character
should have been misunderstood and falsely appreciated for nearly
two thousand years. It happens not uncommonly, especially amongst an
unimaginative people like the Romans, that the characters of men are
ciphers and enigmas to their own age, and are first read and interpreted
by a far distant posterity. Stars are supposed to exist, whose light has
been travelling for many thousands of years without having yet reached
our system; and the eyes are yet unborn upon which their earliest
rays will fall. Men like Mark Anthony, with minds of chaotic
composition--light conflicting with darkness, proportions of colossal
grandeur disfigured by unsymmetrical arrangement, the angelic in close
neighborhood with the brutal--are first read in their true meaning by an
age learned in the philosophy of the human heart. Of this philosophy the
Romans had, by the necessities of education and domestic discipline not
less than by original constitution of mind, the very narrowest visual
range. In no literature whatsoever are so few tolerable notices to
be found of any great truths in Psychology. Nor could this have been
otherwise amongst a people who tried every thing by the standard
of _social_ value; never seeking for a canon of excellence, in man
considered abstractedly in and for himself, and as having an independent
value--but always and exclusively in man as a gregarious being, and
designed for social uses and functions. Not man in his own peculiar
nature, but man in his relations to other men, was the station from
which the Roman speculators took up their philosophy of human nature.
Tried by such standard, Mark Anthony would be found wanting. As a
citizen, he was irretrievably licentious, and therefore there needed
not the bitter personal feud, which circumstances had generated between
them, to account for the _acharnement_ with which Cicero pursued him.
Had Anthony been his friend even, or his near kinsman, Cicero must still
have been his public enemy. And not merely for his vices; for even
the grander features of his character, his towering ambition, his
magnanimity, and the fascinations of his popular qualities,--were
all, in the circumstances of those times, and in _his_ position, of a
tendency dangerously uncivic.

So remarkable was the opposition, at all points, between the second
Cæsar and his rival, that whereas Anthony even in his virtues seemed
dangerous to the state, Octavius gave a civic coloring to his most
indifferent actions, and, with a Machiavelian policy, observed a
scrupulous regard to the forms of the Republic, after every fragment
of the republican institutions, the privileges of the republican
magistrates, and the functions of the great popular officers, had been
absorbed into his own autocracy. Even in the most prosperous days of the
Roman State, when the democratic forces balanced, and were balanced
by, those of the aristocracy, it was far from being a general or common
praise, that a man was of a civic turn of mind, _animo civili_. Yet this
praise did Augustus affect, and in reality attain, at a time when the
very object of all civic feeling was absolutely extinct; so much are
men governed by words. Suetonius assures us, that many evidences were
current even to his times of this popular disposition (_civilitas_) in
the emperor; and that it survived every experience of servile adulation
in the Roman populace, and all the effects of long familiarity with
irresponsible power in himself. Such a moderation of feeling, we are
almost obliged to consider as a genuine and unaffected expression of his
real nature; for, as an artifice of policy, it had soon lost its uses.
And it is worthy of notice, that with the army he laid aside those
popular manners as soon as possible, addressing them as _milites_, not
(_according_ to his earlier practice) as _commilitones_. It concerned
his own security, to be jealous of encroachments on his power. But of
his rank, and the honors which accompanied it, he seems to have been
uniformly careless. Thus, he would never leave a town or enter it by
daylight, unless some higher rule of policy obliged him to do so; by
which means he evaded a ceremonial of public honor which was burdensome
to all the parties concerned in it. Sometimes, however, we find that
men, careless of honors in their own persons, are glad to see them
settling upon their family and immediate connections. But here again
Augustus showed the sincerity of his moderation. For upon one occasion,
when the whole audience in the Roman theatre had risen upon the entrance
of his two adopted sons, at that time not seventeen years old, he
was highly displeased, and even thought it necessary to publish
his displeasure in a separate edict. It is another, and a striking
illustration of his humility, that he willingly accepted of public
appointments, and sedulously discharged the duties attached to them, in
conjunction with colleagues who had been chosen with little regard to
his personal partialities. In the debates of the senate, he showed the
same equanimity; suffering himself patiently to be contradicted, and
even with circumstances of studied incivility. In the public elections,
he gave his vote like any private citizen; and, when he happened to be
a candidate himself, he canvassed the electors with the same earnestness
of personal application, as any other candidate with the least possible
title to public favor from present power or past services. But, perhaps
by no expressions of his civic spirit did Augustus so much conciliate
men's minds, as by the readiness with which he participated in their
social pleasures, and by the uniform severity with which he refused
to apply his influence in any way which could disturb the pure
administration of justice. The Roman juries (_judices_ they were
called), were very corrupt; and easily swayed to an unconscientious
verdict, by the appearance in court of any great man on behalf of one of
the parties interested: nor was such an interference with the course
of private justice any ways injurious to the great man's character. The
wrong which he promoted did but the more forcibly proclaim the warmth
and fidelity of his friendships. So much the more generally was the
uprightness of the emperor appreciated, who would neither tamper with
justice himself, nor countenance any motion in that direction, though it
were to serve his very dearest friend, either by his personal presence,
or by the use of his name. And, as if it had been a trifle merely to
forbear, and to show his regard to justice in this negative way, he even
allowed himself to be summoned as a witness on trials, and showed no
anger when his own evidence was overborne by stronger on the other side.
This disinterested love of justice, and an integrity, so rare in the
great men of Rome, could not but command the reverence of the people.
But their affection, doubtless, was more conciliated by the freedom with
which the emperor accepted invitations from all quarters, and shared
continually in the festal pleasures of his subjects. This practice,
however, he discontinued, or narrowed, as he advanced in years.
Suetonius, who, as a true anecdote-monger, would solve every thing,
and account for every change by some definite incident, charges this
alteration in the emperor's condescensions upon one particular party at
a wedding feast, where the crowd incommoded him much by their pressure
and heat. But, doubtless, it happened to Augustus as to other men; his
spirits failed, and his powers of supporting fatigue or bustle, as years
stole upon him. Changes, coming by insensible steps, and not willingly
acknowledged, for some time escape notice; until some sudden shock
reminds a man forcibly to do that which he has long meditated in an
irresolute way. The marriage banquet may have been the particular
occasion from which Augustus stepped into the habits of old age, but
certainly not the cause of so entire a revolution in his mode of living.

It might seem to throw some doubt, if not upon the fact, yet at
least upon the sincerity, of his _civism_, that undoubtedly Augustus
cultivated his kingly connections with considerable anxiety. It may have
been upon motives merely political that he kept at Rome the children of
nearly all the kings then known as allies or vassals of the Roman power:
a curious fact, and not generally known. In his own palace were reared a
number of youthful princes; and they were educated jointly with his own
children. It is also upon record, that in many instances the fathers
of these princes spontaneously repaired to Rome, and there assuming
the Roman dress--as an expression of reverence to the majesty of the
omnipotent State--did personal 'suit and service' (_more clientum_)
to Augustus. It is an anecdote of not less curiosity, that a whole
'college' of kings subscribed money for a temple at Athens, to be
dedicated in the name of Augustus. Throughout his life, indeed, this
emperor paid a marked attention to all the royal houses then known to
Rome, as occupying the thrones upon the vast margin of the empire. It
is true that in part this attention might be interpreted as given
politically to so many lieutenants, wielding a remote or inaccessible
power for the benefit of Rome. And the children of these kings might be
regarded as hostages, ostensibly entertained for the sake of education,
but really as pledges for their parents' fidelity, and also with a view
to the large reversionary advantages which might be expected to arise
upon the basis of so early and affectionate a connection. But it is not
the less true, that, at one period of his life, Augustus did certainly
meditate some closer personal connection with the royal families of the
earth. He speculated, undoubtedly, on a marriage for himself with some
barbarous princess, and at one time designed his daughter Julia as a
wife for Cotiso, the king of the Getæ. Superstition perhaps disturbed
the one scheme, and policy the other. He married, as is well known, for
his final wife, and the partner of his life through its whole triumphant
stage, Livia Drusilla; compelling her husband, Tiberius Nero, to divorce
her, notwithstanding she was then six months advanced in pregnancy. With
this lady, who was distinguished for her beauty, it is certain that
he was deeply in love; and that might be sufficient to account for the
marriage. It is equally certain, however, upon the concurring
evidence of independent writers, that this connection had an oracular
sanction--not to say, suggestion; a circumstance _which was long
remembered_, and was afterwards noticed by the Christian poet

  "Idque Deûm sortes et Apollinis antra dederunt
  Consilium: nunquam meliùs nam cædere tædas
  Responsum est, quàm cum prægnans nova nupta jugatur."

His daughter Julia had been promised by turns, and always upon reasons
of state, to a whole muster-roll of suitors; first of all, to a son of
Mark Anthony; secondly, to the barbarous king; thirdly, to her first
cousin--that Marcellus, the son of Octavia, only sister to Augustus,
whose early death, in the midst of great expectations, Virgil has so
beautifully introduced into the vision of Roman grandeurs as yet unborn,
which Æneas beholds in the shades; fourthly, she was promised (and this
time the promise was kept) to the fortunate soldier, Agrippa, whose low
birth was not permitted to obscure his military merits. By him she had
a family of children, upon whom, if upon any in this world, the wrath of
Providence seems to have rested; for, excepting one, and in spite of all
the favors that earth and heaven could unite to shower upon them, all
came to an early, a violent, and an infamous end. Fifthly, upon the
death of Agrippa, and again upon motives of policy, and in atrocious
contempt of all the ties that nature and the human heart and human laws
have hallowed, she was promised, (if that word may be applied to the
violent obtrusion upon a man's bed of one who was doubly a curse--first,
for what she brought, and, secondly, for what she took away,) and given
to Tiberius, the future emperor. Upon the whole, as far as we can at
this day make out the connection of a man's acts and purposes, which,
even to his own age, were never entirely cleared up, it is probable
that, so long as the triumvirate survived, and so long as the condition
of Roman power or intrigues, and the distribution of Roman influence,
were such as to leave a possibility that any new triumvirate should
arise--so long Augustus was secretly meditating a retreat for himself at
some barbarous court, against any sudden reverse of fortune, by means
of a domestic connection, which should give him the claim of a kinsman.
Such a court, however unable to make head against the collective power
of Rome, might yet present a front of resistance to any single partisan
who should happen to acquire a brief ascendancy; or, at the worst, as a
merely defensive power, might offer a retreat, secure in distance,
and difficult access; or might be available as a means of delay for
recovering from some else fatal defeat. It is certain that Augustus
viewed Egypt with jealousy as a province, which might be turned to
account in some such way by any aspiring insurgent. And it must have
often struck him as a remarkable circumstance, which by good luck had
turned out entirely to the advantage of his own family, but which might
as readily have had an opposite result, that the three decisive battles
of Pharsalia, of Thapsus, and of Munda, in which the empire of the world
was three times over staked as the prize, had severally brought upon the
defeated leaders a ruin which was total, absolute, and final. One hour
had seen the whole fabric of their aspiring fortunes demolished; and no
resource was left to them but either in suicide, (which, accordingly,
even Cæsar had meditated at one stage of the battle of Munda, when it
seemed to be going against him,) or in the mercy of the victor.

That a victor in a hundred fights should in his hundred-and-first,


  "The painful warrior, famoused for fight,
  After a thousand victories once foil'd,
  Is from the book of honor razed quite,
  And all the rest forgot for which he toil'd."
                   _Shakespeare's Sonnets._]

as in his first, risk the loss of that particular battle, is inseparable
from the condition of man, and the uncertainty of human means; but that
the loss of this one battle should be equally fatal and irrecoverable
with the loss of his first, that it should leave him with means no more
cemented, and resources no better matured for retarding his fall, and
throwing a long succession of hindrances in the way of his conqueror,
argues some essential defect of system. Under our modern policy,
military power--though it may be the growth of one man's life--soon
takes root; a succession of campaigns is required for its extirpation;
and it revolves backwards to its final extinction through all the
stages by which originally it grew. On the Roman system this was mainly
impossible from the solitariness of the Roman power; co-rival nations
who might balance the victorious party, there were absolutely none; and
all the underlings hastened to make their peace, whilst peace was yet
open to them, on the known terms of absolute treachery to their former
master, and instant surrender to the victor of the hour. For this
capital defect in the tenure of Roman power, no matter in whose hands
deposited, there was no absolute remedy. Many a sleepless night, during
the perilous game which he played with Anthony, must have familiarized
Octavius with that view of the risk, which to some extent was
inseparable from his position as the leader in such a struggle carried
on in such an empire. In this dilemma, struck with the extreme necessity
of applying some palliation to the case, we have no doubt that
Augustus would devise the scheme of laying some distant king under such
obligations to fidelity as would suffice to stand the first shock of
misfortune. Such a person would have power enough, of a direct military
kind, to face the storm at its outbreak. He would have power of another
kind in his distance. He would be sustained by the courage of hope, as
a kinsman having a contingent interest in a kinsman's prosperity. And,
finally, he would be sustained by the courage of despair, as one who
never could expect to be trusted by the opposite party. In the worst
case, such a prince would always offer a breathing time and a respite to
his friends, were it only by his remoteness, and if not the _means_ of
rallying, yet at least the _time_ for rallying, more especially as the
escape to his frontier would be easy to one who had long forecast it. We
can hardly doubt that Augustus meditated such schemes; that he laid them
aside only as his power began to cement and to knit together after the
battle of Actium; and that the memory and the prudential tradition of
this plan survived in the imperial family so long as itself survived.
Amongst other anecdotes of the same tendency, two are recorded of Nero,
the emperor in whom expired the line of the original Cæsars, which
strengthen us in a belief of what is otherwise in itself so probable.
Nero, in his first distractions, upon receiving the fatal tidings of
the revolt in Gaul, when reviewing all possible plans of escape from
the impending danger, thought at intervals of throwing himself on the
protection of the barbarous King Vologesus. And twenty years afterwards,
when the Pseudo-Nero appeared, he found a strenuous champion and
protector in the king of the Parthians. Possibly, had an opportunity
offered for searching the Parthian chancery, some treaty would have been
found binding the kings of Parthia, from the age of Augustus through
some generations downwards, in requital of services there specified, or
of treasures lodged, to secure a perpetual asylum to the prosperity of
the Julian family.

The cruelties of Augustus were perhaps equal in atrocity to any which
are recorded; and the equivocal apology for those acts (one which might
as well be used to aggravate as to palliate the case) is, that they were
not prompted by a ferocious nature, but by calculating policy. He once
actually slaughtered upon an altar, a large body of his prisoners; and
such was the contempt with which he was regarded by some of that number,
that, when led out to death, they saluted their other proscriber,
Anthony, with military honors, acknowledging merit even in an enemy, but
Augustus they passed with scornful silence, or with loud reproaches.
Too certainly no man has ever contended for empire with unsullied
conscience, or laid pure hands upon the ark of so magnificent a prize.
Every friend to Augustus must have wished that the twelve years of his
struggle might for ever be blotted out from human remembrance. During
the forty-two years of his prosperity and his triumph, being above fear,
he showed the natural lenity of his temper.

That prosperity, in a public sense, has been rarely equalled; but far
different was his fate, and memorable was the contrast, within the
circuit of his own family. This lord of the universe groaned as often
as the ladies of his house, his daughter and grand-daughter, were
mentioned. The shame which he felt on their account, led him even
to unnatural designs, and to wishes not less so; for at one time he
entertained a plan for putting the elder Julia to death--and at another,
upon hearing that Phoebe (one of the female slaves in his household) had
hanged herself, he exclaimed audibly,--"Would that I had been the father
of Phoebe!" It must, however, be granted, that in this miserable affair
he behaved with very little of his usual discretion. In the first
paroxysms of his rage, on discovering his daughter's criminal conduct,
he made a communication of the whole to the senate. That body could do
nothing in such a matter, either by act or by suggestion; and in a short
time, as every body could have foreseen, he himself repented of his
own want of self-command. Upon the whole, it cannot be denied, that,
according to the remark of Jeremy Taylor, of all the men signally
decorated by history, Augustus Cæsar is that one who exemplifies, in the
most emphatic terms, the mixed tenor of human life, and the equitable
distribution, even on this earth, of good and evil fortune. He
made himself master of the world, and against the most formidable
competitors; his power was absolute, from the rising to the setting
sun; and yet in his own house, where the peasant who does the humblest
chares, claims an undisputed authority, he was baffled, dishonored, and
made ridiculous. He was loved by nobody; and if, at the moment of his
death, he desired his friends to dismiss him from this world by the
common expression of scenical applause, (_vos plaudite!_) in that
valedictory injunction he expressed inadvertently the true value of his
own long life, which, in strict candor, may be pronounced one continued
series of histrionic efforts, and of excellent acting, adapted to
selfish ends.


The three next emperors, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, were the last
princes who had any connection by blood [Footnote: And this was entirely
by the female side. The family descent of the first six Cæsars is so
intricate, that it is rarely understood accurately; so that it may be
well to state it briefly. Augustus was grand nephew to Julius Cæsar,
being the son of his sister's daughter. He was also, by adoption, the
_son_ of Julius. He himself had one child only, viz. the infamous Julia,
who was brought him by his second wife Scribonia; and through this
Julia it was that the three princes, who succeeded to Tiberius, claimed
relationship to Augustus. On that emperor's last marriage with Livia, he
adopted the two sons whom she had borne to her divorced husband. These
two noblemen, who stood in no degree of consanguinity whatever to
Augustus, were Tiberius and Drusus. Tiberius left no children; but
Drusus, the younger of the two brothers, by his marriage with the
younger Antonia, (daughter of Mark Anthony,) had the celebrated
Germanicus, and Claudius, (afterwards emperor.) Germanicus, though
adopted by his uncle Tiberius, and destined to the empire, died
prematurely. But, like Banquo, though he wore no crown, he left
descendants who did. For, by his marriage with Agrippina, a daughter of
Julia's by Agrippa, (and therefore grand-daughter of Augustus,) he had
a large family, of whom one son became the Emperor Caligula; and one
of the daughters, Agrippina the younger, by her marriage with a Roman
nobleman, became the mother of the Emperor Nero. Hence it appears that
Tiberius was uncle to Claudius, Claudius was uncle to Caligula, Caligula
was uncle to Nero. But it is observable, that Nero and Caligula stood
in another degree of consanguinity to each other through their
grandmothers, who were both daughters of Mark Anthony the triumvir; for
the elder Antonia married the grandfather of Nero; the younger Antonia
(as we have stated, above) married Drusus, the grandfather of Caligula;
and again, by these two ladies, they were connected not only with
each other, but also with the Julian house, for the two Antonias were
daughters of Mark Anthony by Octavia, sister to Augustus.] with the
Julian house. In Nero, the sixth emperor, expired the last of the
Cæsars, who was such in reality. These three were also the first in
that long line of monsters, who, at different times, under the title of
Cæsars, dishonored humanity more memorably, than was possible, except in
the cases of those (if any such can be named) who have abused the same
enormous powers in times of the same civility, and in defiance of the
same general illumination. But for them it is a fact, than some crimes,
which now stain the page of history, would have been accounted fabulous
dreams of impure romancers, taxing their extravagant imaginations to
create combinations of wickedness more hideous than civilized men would
tolerate, and more unnatural than the human heart could conceive. Let
us, by way of example, take a short chapter from the diabolic life of
Caligula: In what way did he treat his nearest and tenderest female
connections? His mother had been tortured and murdered by another tyrant
almost as fiendish as himself. She was happily removed from his cruelty.
Disdaining, however, to acknowledge any connection with the blood of
so obscure a man as Agrippa, he publicly gave out that his mother was
indeed the daughter of Julia, but by an incestuous commerce with her
father Augustus. His three sisters he debauched. One died, and her
he canonized; the other two he prostituted to the basest of his own
attendants. Of his wives, it would be hard to say whether they were
first sought and won with more circumstances of injury and outrage, or
dismissed with more insult and levity. The one whom he treated best,
and with most profession of love, and who commonly rode by his side,
equipped with spear and shield, to his military inspections and reviews
of the soldiery, though not particularly beautiful, was exhibited to
his friends at banquets in a state of absolute nudity. His motive for
treating her with so much kindness, was probably that she brought him
a daughter; and her he acknowledged as his own child, from the early
brutality with which she attacked the eyes and cheeks of other infants
who were presented to her as play-fellows. Hence it would appear that
he was aware of his own ferocity, and treated it as a jest. The levity,
indeed, which he mingled with his worst and most inhuman acts, and the
slightness of the occasions upon which he delighted to hang his most
memorable atrocities, aggravated their impression at the time, and must
have contributed greatly to sharpen the sword of vengeance. His palace
happened to be contiguous to the circus. Some seats, it seems, were open
indiscriminately to the public; consequently, the only way in which they
could be appropriated, was by taking possession of them as early as the
midnight preceding any great exhibitions. Once, when it happened that
his sleep was disturbed by such an occasion, he sent in soldiers to
eject them; and with orders so rigorous, as it appeared by the event,
that in this singular tumult, twenty Roman knights, and as many mothers
of families, were cudgelled to death upon the spot, to say nothing of
what the reporter calls "innumeram turbam ceteram."

But this is a trifle to another anecdote reported by the same
authority:--On some occasion it happened that a dearth prevailed, either
generally of cattle, or of such cattle as were used for feeding the wild
beasts reserved for the bloody exhibitions of the amphitheatre. Food
could be had, and perhaps at no very exorbitant price, but on terms
somewhat higher than the ordinary market price. A slight excuse served
with Caligula for acts the most monstrous. Instantly repairing to the
public jails, and causing all the prisoners to pass in review before him
(_custodiarum seriem recognoscens_), he pointed to two bald-headed
men, and ordered that the whole file of intermediate persons should be
marched off to the dens of the wild beasts: "Tell them off," said he,
"from the bald man to the bald man." Yet these were prisoners committed,
not for punishment, but trial. Nor, had it been otherwise, were the
charges against them equal, but running through every gradation of
guilt. But the _elogia_ or records of their commitment, he would not so
much as look at. With such inordinate capacities for cruelty, we cannot
wonder that he should in his common conversation have deplored the
tameness and insipidity of his own times and reign, as likely to be
marked by no wide-spreading calamity." Augustus," said he, "was happy;
for in his reign occurred the slaughter of Varus and his legions.
Tiberius was happy; for in his occurred that glorious fall of the great
amphitheatre at Fidenæ. But for me--alas! alas!" And then he would pray
earnestly for fire or slaughter--pestilence or famine. Famine indeed was
to some extent in his own power; and accordingly, as far as his courage
would carry him, he did occasionally try that mode of tragedy upon the
people of Rome, by shutting up the public granaries against them. As
he blended his mirth and a truculent sense of the humorous with his
cruelties, we cannot wonder that he should soon blend his cruelties with
his ordinary festivities, and that his daily banquets would soon become
insipid without them. Hence he required a daily supply of executions in
his own halls and banqueting rooms; nor was a dinner held to be complete
without such a dessert. Artists were sought out who had dexterity and
strength enough to do what Lucan somewhere calls _ensem rotare_, that
is, to cut off a human head with one whirl of the sword. Even this
became insipid, as wanting one main element of misery to the sufferer,
and an indispensable condiment to the jaded palate of the connoisseur,
viz., a lingering duration. As a pleasant variety, therefore, the
tormentors were introduced with their various instruments of torture;
and many a dismal tragedy in that mode of human suffering was conducted
in the sacred presence during the emperor's hours of amiable relaxation.

The result of these horrid indulgences was exactly what we might
suppose, that even such scenes ceased to irritate the languid appetite,
and yet that without them life was not endurable. Jaded and exhausted as
the sense of pleasure had become in Caligula, still it could be roused
into any activity by nothing short of these murderous luxuries. Hence,
it seems, that he was continually tampering and dallying with the
thought of murder; and like the old Parisian jeweller Cardillac, in
Louis XIV.'s time, who was stung with a perpetual lust for murdering the
possessors of fine diamonds--not so much for the value of the prize (of
which he never hoped to make any use), as from an unconquerable desire
of precipitating himself into the difficulties and hazards of the
murder,--Caligula never failed to experience (and sometimes even to
acknowledge) a secret temptation to any murder which seemed either more
than usually abominable, or more than usually difficult. Thus, when
the two consuls were seated at his table, he burst out into sudden and
profuse laughter; and, upon their courteously requesting to know what
witty and admirable conceit might be the occasion of the imperial
mirth, he frankly owned to them, and doubtless he did not improve their
appetites by this confession, that in fact he was laughing, and that he
could not but laugh, (and then the monster laughed immoderately again,)
at the pleasant thought of seeing them both headless, and that with so
little trouble to himself, (_uno suo nutu_,) he could have both their
throats cut. No doubt he was continually balancing the arguments for and
against such little escapades; nor had any person a reason for security
in the extraordinary obligations, whether of hospitality or of religious
vows, which seemed to lay him under some peculiar restraints in that
case above all others; for such circumstances of peculiarity, by which
the murder would be stamped with unusual atrocity, were but the more
likely to make its fascinations irresistible. Hence he dallied with
the thoughts of murdering her whom he loved best, and indeed
exclusively--his wife Cæsonia; and whilst fondling her, and toying
playfully with her polished throat, he was distracted (as he half
insinuated to her) between the desire of caressing it, which might be
often repeated, and that of cutting it, which could be gratified but

Nero (for as to Claudius, he came too late to the throne to indulge any
propensities of this nature with so little discretion) was but a variety
of the same species. He also was an amateur, and an enthusiastic amateur
of murder. But as this taste, in the most ingenious hands, is limited
and monotonous in its modes of manifestation, it would be tedious to run
through the long Suetonian roll-call of his peccadilloes in this way.
One only we shall cite, to illustrate the amorous delight with which he
pursued any murder which happened to be seasoned highly to his taste
by enormous atrocity, and by almost unconquerable difficulty. It would
really be pleasant, were it not for the revolting consideration of
the persons concerned, and their relation to each other, to watch the
tortuous pursuit of the hunter, and the doubles of the game, in this
obstinate chase. For certain reasons of state, as Nero attempted to
persuade himself, but in reality because no other crime had the same
attractions of unnatural horror about it, he resolved to murder his
mother Agrippina. This being settled, the next thing was to arrange
the mode and the tools. Naturally enough, according to the custom then
prevalent in Rome, he first attempted the thing by poison. The poison
failed: for Agrippina, anticipating tricks of this kind, had armed
her constitution against them, like Mithridates; and daily took potent
antidotes and prophylactics. Or else (which is more probable) the
emperor's agent in such purposes, fearing his sudden repentance and
remorse on first hearing of his mother's death, or possibly even
witnessing her agonies, had composed a poison of inferior strength. This
had certainly occurred in the case of Britannicus, who had thrown off
with ease the first dose administered to him by Nero. Upon which he
had summoned to his presence the woman employed in the affair, and
compelling her by threats to mingle a more powerful potion in his own
presence, had tried it successively upon different animals, until he
was satisfied with its effects; after which, immediately inviting
Britannicus to a banquet, he had finally dispatched him. On Agrippina,
however, no changes in the poison, whether of kind or strength, had
any effect; so that, after various trials, this mode of murder was
abandoned, and the emperor addressed himself to other plans. The first
of these was some curious mechanical device, by which a false ceiling
was to have been suspended by bolts above her bed; and in the middle
of the night, the bolt being suddenly drawn, a vast weight would have
descended with a ruinous destruction to all below. This scheme, however,
taking air from the indiscretion of some amongst the accomplices,
reached the ears of Agrippina; upon which the old lady looked about
her too sharply to leave much hope in that scheme: so _that_ also was
abandoned. Next, he conceived the idea of an artificial ship, which, at
the touch of a few springs, might fall to pieces in deep water. Such
a ship was prepared, and stationed at a suitable point. But the main
difficulty remained, which was to persuade the old lady to go on board.
Not that she knew in this case _who_ had been the ship-builder, for that
would have ruined all; but it seems that she took it ill to be hunted in
this murderous spirit, and was out of humor with her son; besides, that
any proposal coming from him, though previously indifferent to her,
would have instantly become suspected. To meet this difficulty, a sort
of reconciliation was proposed, and a very affectionate message sent,
which had the effect of throwing Agrippina off her guard, and seduced
her to Baiæ for the purpose of joining the emperor's party at a great
banquet held in commemoration of a solemn festival. She came by water
in a sort of light frigate, and was to return in the same way. Meantime
Nero tampered with the commander of her vessel, and prevailed upon him
to wreck it. What was to be done? The great lady was anxious to
return to Rome, and no proper conveyance was at hand. Suddenly it
was suggested, as if by chance, that a ship of the emperor's, new and
properly equipped, was moored at a neighboring station. This was readily
accepted by Agrippina: the emperor accompanied her to the place of
embarkation, took a most tender leave of her, and saw her set sail.
It was necessary that the vessel should get into deep water before the
experiment could be made; and with the utmost agitation this pious son
awaited news of the result. Suddenly a messenger rushed breathless
into his presence, and horrified him by the joyful information that his
august mother had met with an alarming accident; but, by the blessing
of Heaven, had escaped safe and sound, and was now on her road to mingle
congratulations with her affectionate son. The ship, it seems, had done
its office; the mechanism had played admirably; but who can provide for
every thing? The old lady, it turned out, could swim like a duck; and
the whole result had been to refresh her with a little sea-bathing. Here
was worshipful intelligence. Could any man's temper be expected to stand
such continued sieges? Money, and trouble, and infinite contrivance,
wasted upon one old woman, who absolutely would not, upon any terms, be
murdered! Provoking it certainly was; and of a man like Nero it could
not be expected that he should any longer dissemble his disgust, or put
up with such repeated affronts. He rushed upon his simple congratulating
friend, swore that he had come to murder him, and as nobody could have
suborned him but Agrippina, he ordered her off to instant execution.
And, unquestionably, if people will not be murdered quietly and in a
civil way, they must expect that such forbearance is not to continue for
ever; and obviously have themselves only to blame for any harshness or
violence which they may have rendered necessary.

It is singular, and shocking at the same time, to mention, that, for
this atrocity, Nero did absolutely receive solemn congratulations from
all orders of men. With such evidences of base servility in the public
mind, and of the utter corruption which they had sustained in their
elementary feelings, it is the less astonishing that he should have
made other experiments upon the public patience, which seem expressly
designed to try how much it would support. Whether he were really the
author of the desolating fire which consumed Rome for six [Footnote:
But a memorial stone, in its inscription, makes the time longer: "Quando
urbs per novem dies arsit Neronianis temporibus."] days and seven
nights, and drove the mass of the people into the tombs and sepulchres
for shelter, is yet a matter of some doubt. But one great presumption
against it, founded on its desperate imprudence, as attacking the people
in their primary comforts, is considerably weakened by the enormous
servility of the Romans in the case just stated: they who could
volunteer congratulations to a son for butchering his mother, (no matter
on what pretended suspicions,) might reasonably be supposed incapable of
any resistance which required courage even in a case of self-defence,
or of just revenge. The direct reasons, however, for implicating him in
this affair, seem at present insufficient. He was displeased, it seems,
with the irregularity and unsightliness of the antique buildings,
and also with the streets, as too narrow and winding, (_angustiis
flexurisque vicorum_.) But in this he did but express what was no
doubt the common judgment of all his contemporaries, who had seen the
beautiful cities of Greece and Asia Minor. The Rome of that time was
in many parts built of wood; and there is much probability that it must
have been a _picturesque_ city, and in parts almost grotesque. But it
is remarkable, and a fact which we have nowhere seen noticed, that the
ancients, whether Greeks or Romans, had no eye for the picturesque; nay,
that it was a sense utterly unawakened amongst them; and that the
very conception of the picturesque, as of a thing distinct from the
beautiful, is not once alluded to through the whole course of ancient
literature, nor would it have been intelligible to any ancient critic;
so that, whatever attraction for the eye might exist in the Rome of
that day, there is little doubt that it was of a kind to be felt only
by modern spectators. Mere dissatisfaction with its external appearance,
which must have been a pretty general sentiment, argued, therefore, no
necessary purpose of destroying it. Certainly it would be a weightier
ground of suspicion, if it were really true, that some of his agents
were detected on the premises of different senators in the act of
applying combustibles to their mansions. But this story wears a very
fabulous air. For why resort to the private dwellings of great men,
where any intruder was sure of attracting notice, when the same effect,
and with the same deadly results, might have been attained quietly and
secretly in so many of the humble Roman _coenacula_?

The great loss on this memorable occasion was in the heraldic and
ancestral honors of the city. Historic Rome then went to wreck for
ever. Then perished the _domus priscorum ducum hostilibus adhuc spoliis
adornatæ_; the "rostral" palace; the mansion of the Pompeys; the
Blenheims and the Strathfieldsays of the Scipios, the Marcelli, the
Paulli, and the Cæsars; then perished the aged trophies from Carthage
and from Gaul; and, in short, as the historian sums up the lamentable
desolation, "_quidquid visendum atque memorabile ex antiquitate
duraverat_." And this of itself might lead one to suspect the emperor's
hand as the original agent; for by no one act was it possible so
entirely and so suddenly to wean the people from their old republican
recollections, and in one week to obliterate the memorials of their
popular forces, and the trophies of many ages. The old people of Rome
were gone; their characteristic dress even was gone; for already in the
time of Augustus they had laid aside the _toga_, and assumed the cheaper
and scantier _pænula_, so that the eye sought in vain for Virgil's

  "Romanes rerum dominos gentemque _togatam_."

Why, then, after all the constituents of Roman grandeur had passed away,
should their historical trophies survive, recalling to them the scenes
of departed heroism, in which they had no personal property, and
suggesting to them vain hopes, which for them were never to be other
than chimeras? Even in that sense, therefore, and as a great depository
of heart-stirring historical remembrances, Rome was profitably
destroyed; and in any other sense, whether for health or for the
conveniences of polished life, or for architectural magnificence,
there never was a doubt that the Roman people gained infinitely by this
conflagration. For, like London, it arose from its ashes with a splendor
proportioned to its vast expansion of wealth and population; and marble
took the place of wood. For the moment, however, this event must have
been felt by the people as an overwhelming calamity. And it serves to
illustrate the passive endurance and timidity of the popular temper, and
to what extent it might be provoked with impunity, that in this state
of general irritation and effervescence, Nero absolutely forbade them
to meddle with the ruins of their own dwellings--taking that charge
upon himself, with a view to the vast wealth which he anticipated
from sifting the rubbish. And, as if that mode of plunder were not
sufficient, he exacted compulsory contributions to the rebuilding of the
city so indiscriminately, as to press heavily upon all men's finances;
and thus, in the public account which universally imputed the fire to
him, he was viewed as a twofold robber, who sought to heal one calamity
by the infliction of another and a greater.

The monotony of wickedness and outrage becomes at length fatiguing
to the coarsest and most callous senses; and the historian, even, who
caters professedly for the taste which feeds upon the monstrous and the
hyperbolical, is glad at length to escape from the long evolution of
his insane atrocities, to the striking and truly scenical catastrophe of
retribution which overtook them, and avenged the wrongs of an insulted
world. Perhaps history contains no more impressive scenes than those in
which the justice of Providence at length arrested the monstrous career
of Nero.

It was at Naples, and, by a remarkable fatality, on the very anniversary
of his mother's murder, that he received the first intelligence of the
revolt in Gaul under the Proprætor Vindex. This news for about a week he
treated with levity; and, like Henry VII. of England, who was nettled,
not so much at being proclaimed a rebel, as because he was described
under the slighting denomination of "one Henry Tidder or Tudor," he
complained bitterly that Vindex had mentioned him by his family name of
Ænobarbus, rather than his assumed one of Nero. But much more keenly he
resented the insulting description of himself as a "miserable harper,"
appealing to all about him whether they had ever known a better, and
offering to stake the truth of all the other charges against himself
upon the accuracy of this in particular. So little even in this instance
was he alive to the true point of the insult; not thinking it any
disgrace that a Roman emperor should be chiefly known to the world in
the character of a harper, but only if he should happen to be a bad one.
Even in those days, however, imperfect as were the means of travelling,
rebellion moved somewhat too rapidly to allow any long interval of
security so light-minded as this. One courier followed upon the heels of
another, until he felt the necessity for leaving Naples; and he returned
to Rome, as the historian says, _prætrepidus_; by which word, however,
according to its genuine classical acceptation, we apprehend is not
meant that he was highly alarmed, but only that he was in a great hurry.
That he was not yet under any real alarm (for he trusted in certain
prophecies, which, like those made to the Scottish tyrant "kept the
promise to the ear, but broke it to the sense,") is pretty evident,
from his conduct on reaching the capitol. For, without any appeal to
the senate or the people, but sending out a few summonses to some men of
rank, he held a hasty council, which he speedily dismissed, and occupied
the rest of the day with experiments on certain musical instruments
of recent invention, in which the keys were moved by hydraulic
contrivances. He had come to Rome, it appeared, merely from a sense of

Suddenly, however, arrived news, which fell upon him with the force of a
thunderbolt, that the revolt had extended to the Spanish provinces, and
was headed by Galba. He fainted upon hearing this; and falling to the
ground, lay for a long time lifeless, as it seemed, and speechless.
Upon coming to himself again, he tore his robe, struck his forehead, and
exclaimed aloud--that for him all was over. In this agony of mind,
it strikes across the utter darkness of the scene with the sense of a
sudden and cheering flash, recalling to us the possible goodness and
fidelity of human nature--when we read that one humble creature adhered
to him, and, according to her slender means, gave him consolation during
these trying moments; this was the woman who had tended his infant
years; and she now recalled to his remembrance such instances of
former princes in adversity, as appeared fitted to sustain his drooping
spirits. It seems, however, that, according to the general course of
violent emotions, the rebound of high spirits was in proportion to
his first despondency. He omitted nothing of his usual luxury or
self-indulgence, and he even found spirits for going _incognito_ to the
theatre, where he took sufficient interest in the public performances,
to send a message to a favorite actor. At times, even in this hopeless
situation, his native ferocity returned upon him, and he was believed to
have framed plans for removing all his enemies at once--the leaders of
the rebellion, by appointing successors to their offices, and secretly
sending assassins to dispatch their persons; the senate, by poison at a
great banquet; the Gaulish provinces, by delivering them up for pillage
to the army; the city, by again setting it on fire, whilst, at the same
time, a vast number of wild beasts was to have been turned loose upon
the unarmed populace--for the double purpose of destroying them, and
of distracting their attention from the fire. But, as the mood of his
frenzy changed, these sanguinary schemes were abandoned, (not, however,
under any feelings of remorse, but from mere despair of effecting them,)
and on the same day, but after a luxurious dinner, the imperial monster
grew bland and pathetic in his ideas; he would proceed to the rebellious
army; he would present himself unarmed to their view; and would recall
them to their duty by the mere spectacle of his tears. Upon the pathos
with which he would weep he was resolved to rely entirely. And having
received the guilty to his mercy without distinction, upon the following
day he would unite _his_ joy with _their_ joy, and would chant hymns of
victory (_epinicia_)--"which by the way," said he, suddenly, breaking
off to his favorite pursuits, "it is necessary that I should immediately
compose." This caprice vanished like the rest; and he made an effort
to enlist the slaves and citizens into his service, and to raise by
extortion a large military chest. But in the midst of these vascillating
purposes fresh tidings surprised him--other armies had revolted, and the
rebellion was spreading contagiously. This consummation of his alarms
reached him at dinner; and the expressions of his angry fears took even
a scenical air; he tore the dispatches, upset the table, and dashed to
pieces upon the ground two crystal beakers--which had a high value
as works of art, even in the _Aurea Domus_, from the sculptures which
adorned them.

He now prepared for flight; and, sending forward commissioners to
prepare the fleet at Ostia for his reception, he tampered with such
officers of the army as were at hand, to prevail upon them to accompany
his retreat. But all showed themselves indisposed to such schemes, and
some flatly refused. Upon which he turned to other counsels; sometimes
meditating a flight to the King of Parthia, or even to throw himself on
the mercy of Galba; sometimes inclining rather to the plan of venturing
into the forum in mourning apparel, begging pardon for his past
offences, and, as a last resource, entreating that he might receive the
appointment of Egyptian prefect. This plan, however, he hesitated to
adopt, from some apprehension that he should be torn to pieces in his
road to the forum; and, at all events, he concluded to postpone it
to the following day. Meantime events were now hurrying to their
catastrophe, which for ever anticipated that intention. His hours were
numbered, and the closing scene was at hand.

In the middle of the night he was aroused from slumber with the
intelligence that the military guard, who did duty at the palace, had
all quited their posts. Upon this the unhappy prince leaped from
his couch, never again to taste the luxury of sleep, and dispatched
messengers to his friends. No answers were returned; and upon that he
went personally with a small retinue to their hotels. But he found their
doors every where closed; and all his importunities could not avail to
extort an answer. Sadly and slowly he returned to his own bedchamber;
but there again he found fresh instances of desertion, which had
occurred during his short absence; the pages of his bedchamber had
fled, carrying with them the coverlids of the imperial bed, which were
probably inwrought with gold, and even a golden box, in which Nero
had on the preceding day deposited poison prepared against the last
extremity. Wounded to the heart by this general desertion, and perhaps
by some special case of ingratitude, such as would probably enough be
signalized in the flight of his personal favorites, he called for
a gladiator of the household to come and dispatch him. But none
appearing,--"What!" said he, "have I neither friend nor foe?" And so
saying, he ran towards the Tiber, with the purpose of drowning himself.
But that paroxysm, like all the rest, proved transient; and he expressed
a wish for some hiding-place, or momentary asylum, in which he might
collect his unsettled spirits, and fortify his wandering resolution.
Such a retreat was offered to him by his _libertus_ Phaon, in his own
rural villa, about four miles distant from Rome. The offer was accepted;
and the emperor, without further preparation than that of throwing over
his person a short mantle of a dusky hue, and enveloping his head and
face in a handkerchief, mounted his horse, and left Rome with four
attendants. It was still night, but probably verging towards the early
dawn; and even at that hour the imperial party met some travellers on
their way to Rome (coming up, no doubt, [Footnote: At this early hour,
witnesses, sureties, &c., and all concerned in the law courts, came up
to Rome from villas, country towns, &c. But no ordinary call existed
to summon travellers in the opposite direction; which accounts for the
comment of the travellers on the errand of Nero and his attendants.]
on law business)--who said, as they passed, "These men are certainly
in chase of Nero." Two other incidents, of an interesting nature, are
recorded of this short but memorable ride; at one point of the road,
the shouts of the soldiery assailed their ears from the neighboring
encampment of Galba. They were probably then getting under arms for
their final march to take possession of the palace. At another point, an
accident occurred of a more unfortunate kind, but so natural and so well
circumstantiated, that it serves to verify the whole narrative; a dead
body was lying on the road, at which the emperor's horse started so
violently as nearly to dismount his rider, and under the difficulty
of the moment compelled him to withdraw the hand which held up the
handkerchief, and suddenly to expose his features. Precisely at this
critical moment it happened that an old half-pay officer passed,
recognised the emperor, and saluted him. Perhaps it was with some
purpose of applying a remedy to this unfortunate rencontre, that the
party dismounted at a point where several roads met, and turned their
horses adrift to graze at will amongst the furze and brambles. Their
own purpose was, to make their way to the back of the villa; but,
to accomplish that, it was necessary that they should first cross
a plantation of reeds, from the peculiar state of which they found
themselves obliged to cover successively each space upon which they
trode with parts of their dress, in order to gain any supportable
footing. In this way, and contending with such hardships, they reached
at length the postern side of the villa. Here we must suppose that
there was no regular ingress; for, after waiting until an entrance was
pierced, it seems that the emperor could avail himself of it in no more
dignified posture, than by creeping through the hole on his hands and
feet, (_quadrupes per angustias receptus_.)

Now, then, after such anxiety, alarm, and hardship, Nero had reached a
quiet rural asylum. But for the unfortunate concurrence of his horse's
alarm with the passing of the soldier, he might perhaps have counted on
a respite of a day or two in this noiseless and obscure abode. But what
a habitation for him who was yet ruler of the world in the eye of law,
and even _de facto_ was so, had any fatal accident befallen his aged
competitor! The room in which (as the one most removed from notice and
suspicion) he had secreted himself, was a cella, or little sleeping
closet of a slave, furnished only with a miserable pallet and a coarse
rug. Here lay the founder and possessor of the Golden House, too happy
if he might hope for the peaceable possession even of this miserable
crypt. But that, he knew too well, was impossible. A rival pretender to
the empire was like the plague of fire--as dangerous in the shape of
a single spark left unextinguished, as in that of a prosperous
conflagration. But a few brief sands yet remained to run in the
emperor's hour-glass; much variety of degradation or suffering seemed
scarcely within the possibilities of his situation, or within the
compass of the time. Yet, as though Providence had decreed that
his humiliation should pass through every shape, and speak by every
expression which came home to his understanding, or was intelligible
to his senses, even in these few moments he was attacked by hunger and
thirst. No other bread could be obtained (or, perhaps, if the emperor's
presence were concealed from the household, it was not safe to raise
suspicion by calling for better) than that which was ordinarily given
to slaves, coarse, black, and, to a palate so luxurious, doubtless
disgusting. This accordingly he rejected; but a little tepid water
he drank. After which, with the haste of one who fears that he may be
prematurely interrupted, but otherwise, with all the reluctance which
we may imagine, and which his streaming tears proclaimed, he addressed
himself to the last labor in which he supposed himself to have any
interest on this earth--that of digging a grave. Measuring a space
adjusted to the proportions of his person, he inquired anxiously for
any loose fragments of marble, such as might suffice to line it. He
requested also to be furnished with wood and water, as the materials
for the last sepulchral rites. And these labors were accompanied, or
continually interrupted by tears and lamentations, or by passionate
ejaculations on the blindness of fortune, in suffering so divine an
artist to be thus violently snatched away, and on the calamitous fate of
musical science, which then stood on the brink of so dire an eclipse. In
these moments he was most truly in an _agony_, according to the original
meaning of that word; for the conflict was great between two master
principles of his nature: on the one hand, he clung with the weakness of
a girl to life, even in that miserable shape to which it had now sunk;
and like the poor malefactor, with whose last struggles Prior has so
atrociously amused himself, "he often took leave, but was loath to
depart." Yet, on the other hand, to resign his life very speedily,
seemed his only chance for escaping the contumelies, perhaps the
tortures, of his enemies; and, above all other considerations, for
making sure of a burial, and possibly of burial rites; to want which, in
the judgment of the ancients, was the last consummation of misery. Thus
occupied, and thus distracted--sternly attracted to the grave by his
creed, hideously repelled by infirmity of nature--he was suddenly
interrupted by a courier with letters for the master of the house;
letters, and from Rome! What was their import? That was soon
told--briefly that Nero was adjudged to be a public enemy by the senate,
and that official orders were issued for apprehending him, in order that
he might be brought to condign punishment according to the method of
ancient precedent. Ancient precedent! _more majorum!_ And how was that?
eagerly demanded the emperor. He was answered--that the state criminal
in such cases was first stripped naked, then impaled as it were between
the prongs of a pitchfork, and in that condition scourged to death.
Horror-struck with this account, he drew forth two poniards, or short
swords, tried their edges, and then, in utter imbecility of purpose,
returned them to their scabbards, alleging that the destined moment had
not yet arrived. Then he called upon Sporus, the infamous partner in
his former excesses, to commence the funeral anthem. Others, again, he
besought to lead the way in dying, and to sustain him by the spectacle
of their example. But this purpose also he dismissed in the very moment
of utterance; and turning away despairingly, he apostrophized himself in
words reproachful or animating, now taxing his nature with infirmity of
purpose, now calling on himself by name, with adjurations to remember
his dignity, and to act worthy of his supreme station: _ou prepei
Neroni_, cried he, _ou prepeu næphein dei en tois toidætois ale, eleire
seauton_--i.e. "Fie, fie, then Nero! such a season calls for perfect
self-possession. Up, then, and rouse thyself to action."

Thus, and in similar efforts to master the weakness of his reluctant
nature--weakness which would extort pity from the severest minds, were
it not from the odious connection which in him it had with cruelty
the most merciless--did this unhappy prince, _jam non salutis spem sed
exitii solatium quærens_, consume the flying moments, until at length
his ears caught the fatal sounds or echoes from a body of horsemen
riding up to the villa. These were the officers charged with his arrest;
and if he should fall into their hands alive, he knew that his last
chance was over for liberating himself, by a Roman death, from the
burthen of ignominious life, and from a lingering torture. He paused
from his restless motions, listened attentively, then repeated a line
from Homer--

  Ippon m' ochupodon amphi chtupos ouata ballei

(The resounding tread of swift-footed horses reverberates upon my
ears);--then under some momentary impulse of courage, gained perhaps by
figuring to himself the bloody populace rioting upon his mangled body,
yet even then needing the auxiliary hand and vicarious courage of his
private secretary, the feeble-hearted prince stabbed himself in the
throat. The wound, however, was not such as to cause instant death. He
was still breathing, and not quite speechless, when the centurion who
commanded the party entered the closet; and to this officer, who uttered
a few hollow words of encouragement, he was still able to make a brief
reply. But in the very effort of speaking he expired, and with an
expression of horror impressed upon his stiffened features, which
communicated a sympathetic horror to all beholders.

Such was the too memorable tragedy which closed for ever the brilliant
line of the Julian family, and translated the august title of Cæsar
from its original purpose as a proper name to that of an official
designation. It is the most striking instance upon record of a dramatic
and extreme vengeance overtaking extreme guilt; for, as Nero had
exhausted the utmost possibilities of crime, so it may be affirmed that
he drank off the cup of suffering to the very extremity of what his
peculiar nature allowed. And in no life of so short a duration, have
there ever been crowded equal extremities of gorgeous prosperity and
abject infamy. It may be added, as another striking illustration of the
rapid mutability and revolutionary excesses which belonged to what
has been properly called the Roman _stratocracy_ then disposing of
the world, that within no very great succession of weeks that same
victorious rebel, the Emperor Galba, at whose feet Nero had been
self-immolated, was laid a murdered corpse in the same identical cell
which had witnessed the lingering agonies of his unhappy victim. This
was the act of an emancipated slave, anxious, by a vindictive insult to
the remains of one prince, to place on record his gratitude to another.
"So runs the world away!" And in this striking way is retribution
sometimes dispensed.

In the sixth Cæsar terminated the Julian line. The three next princes in
the succession were personally uninteresting; and, with a slight
reserve in favor of Otho, whose motives for committing suicide (if truly
reported) argue great nobility of mind, [Footnote: We may add that the
unexampled public grief which followed the death of Otho, exceeding
even that which followed the death of Germanicus, and causing several
officers to commit suicide, implies some remarkable goodness in this
Prince, and a very unusual power of conciliating attachment.] were
even brutal in the tenor of their lives and monstrous; besides that the
extreme brevity of their several reigns (all three, taken conjunctly,
having held the supreme power for no more than twelve months and twenty
days) dismisses them from all effectual station or right to a separate
notice in the line of Cæsars. Coming to the tenth in succession,
Vespasian, and his two sons, Titus and Domitian, who make up the list of
the twelve Cæsars, as they are usually called, we find matter for
deeper political meditation and subjects of curious research. But
these emperors would be more properly classed with the five who succeed
them--Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines; after whom comes
the young ruffian, Commodus, another Caligula or Nero, from whose
short and infamous reign Gibbon takes up his tale of the decline of the
empire. And this classification would probably have prevailed, had
not the very curious work of Suetonius, whose own life and period of
observation determined the series and cycle of his subjects, led to a
different distribution. But as it is evident that, in the succession of
the first twelve Cæsars, the six latter have no connection whatever by
descent, collaterally, or otherwise, with the six first, it would be a
more logical distribution to combine them according to the fortunes
of the state itself, and the succession of its prosperity through the
several stages of splendor, declension, revival, and final decay. Under
this arrangement, the first seventeen would belong to the first stage;
Commodus would open the second; Aurelian down to Constantine or Julian
would fill the third; and Jovian to Augustulus would bring up the
melancholy rear. Meantime it will be proper, after thus briefly throwing
our eyes over the monstrous atrocities of the early Cæsars, to spend a
few lines in examining their origin, and the circumstances which favored
their growth. For a mere hunter after hidden or forgotten singularities;
a lover on their own account of all strange perversities and freaks
of nature, whether in action, taste, or opinion; for a collector and
amateur of misgrowths and abortions; for a Suetonius, in short, it may
be quite enough to state and to arrange his cabinet of specimens from
the marvellous in human nature. But certainly in modern times, any
historian, however little affecting the praise of a philosophic
investigator, would feel himself called upon to remove a little
the taint of the miraculous and preternatural which adheres to
such anecdotes, by entering into the psychological grounds of their
possibility; whether lying in any peculiarly vicious education, early
familiarity with bad models, corrupting associations, or other plausible
key to effects, which, taken separately, and out of their natural
connection with their explanatory causes, are apt rather to startle and
revolt the feelings of sober thinkers. Except, perhaps, in some chapters
of Italian history, as, for example, among the most profligate of the
Papal houses, and amongst some of the Florentine princes, we find hardly
any parallel to the atrocities of Caligula and Nero; nor indeed was
Tiberius much (if at all) behind them, though otherwise so wary and
cautious in his conduct. The same tenor of licentiousness beyond the
needs of the individual, the same craving after the marvellous and the
stupendous in guilt, is continually emerging in succeeding emperors--in
Vitellius, in Domitian, in Commodus, in Caracalla--every where, in
short, where it was not overruled by one of two causes, either by
original goodness of nature too powerful to be mastered by ordinary
seductions, (and in some cases removed from their influence by an
early apprenticeship to camps,) or by the terrors of an exemplary ruin
immediately preceding. For such a determinate tendency to the enormous
and the anomalous, sufficient causes must exist. What were they?

In the first place, we may observe that the people of Rome in that
age were generally more corrupt by many degrees than has been usually
supposed possible. The effect of revolutionary times, to relax all modes
of moral obligation, and to unsettle the moral sense, has been well and
philosophically stated by Mr. Coleridge; but that would hardly account
for the utter licentiousness and depravity of Imperial Rome. Looking
back to Republican Rome, and considering the state of public morals but
fifty years before the emperors, we can with difficulty believe that
the descendants of a people so severe in their habits could thus rapidly
degenerate, and that a populace, once so hardy and masculine, should
assume the manners which we might expect in the debauchees of Daphne
(the infamous suburb of Antioch) or of Canopus, into which settled the
very lees and dregs of the vicious Alexandria. Such extreme changes
would falsify all that we know of human nature; we might _à priori_
pronounce them impossible; and in fact, upon searching history, we find
other modes of solving the difficulty. In reality, the citizens of Rome
were at this time a new race, brought together from every quarter of
the world, but especially from Asia. So vast a proportion of the ancient
citizens had been cut off by the sword, and partly to conceal this waste
of population, but much more by way of cheaply requiting services, or of
showing favor, or of acquiring influence, slaves had been emancipated
in such great multitudes, and afterwards invested with all the rights
of citizens, that, in a single generation, Rome became almost transmuted
into a baser metal; the progeny of those whom the last generation had
purchased from the slave merchants. These people derived their stock
chiefly from Cappadocia, Pontus, &c., and the other populous regions of
Asia Minor; and hence the taint of Asiatic luxury and depravity, which
was so conspicuous to all the Romans of the old republican severity.
Juvenal is to be understood more literally than is sometimes supposed,
when he complains that long before his time the Orontes (that river
which washed the infamous capital of Syria) had mingled its impure
waters with those of the Tiber. And a little before him, Lucan speaks
with mere historic gravity when he says--

  ------"Vivant Galatæque Syrique
  Cappadoces, Gallique, extremique orbis Iberi,
  Armenii, Cilices: _nam post civilia bella
  Hic Populus Romanus erit_."

[Footnote: Blackwell, in his Court of Augustus, vol. i. p. 382, when
noticing these lines upon occasion of the murder of Cicero, in the final
proscription under the last triumvirate, comments thus: "Those of the
greatest and truly Roman spirit had been murdered in the field by
Julius Cæsar; the rest were now massacred in the city by his son and
successors; in their room came Syrians, Cappadocians, Phrygians, and
other enfranchised slaves from the conquered nations;"--"these in half
a century had sunk so low, that Tiberius pronounced her very senators to
be _homines ad sermtutem natos_, men born to be slaves."]

Probably in the time of Nero, not one man in six was of pure Roman
descent. [Footnote: Suetonius indeed pretends that Augustus, personally
at least, struggled against this ruinous practice--thinking it a matter
of the highest moment, "Sincerum atque ab omni colluvione peregrini et
servilis sanguinis incorruptum servare populum." And Horace is ready
with his flatteries on the same topic, lib. 3, Od. 6. But the facts
are against them; for the question is not what Augustus did in his
own person, (which at most could not operate very widely except by the
example,) but what he permitted to be done. Now there was a practice
familiar to those times; that when a congiary or any other popular
liberality was announced, multitudes were enfranchised by avaricious
masters in order to make them capable of the bounty, (as citizens,) and
yet under the condition of transferring to their emancipators whatsoever
they should receive; _ina ton dæmosios d domenon siton lambanontes
chata mæna--pherosi tois dedochasi tæn eleutherian_ says Dionysius of
Halicarnassus, in order that after receiving the corn given publicly
in every month, they might carry it to those who had bestowed upon them
their freedom. In a case, then, where an extensive practice of this
kind was exposed to Augustus, and publicly reproved by him, how did he
proceed? Did he reject the new-made citizens? No; he contented himself
with diminishing the proportion originally destined for each, so that
the same absolute sum being distributed among a number increased by the
whole amount of the new enrolments, of necessity the relative sum for
each separately was so much less. But this was a remedy applied only
to the pecuniary fraud as it would have affected himself. The permanent
mischief to the state went unredressed.] And the consequences were
suitable. Scarcely a family has come down to our knowledge that could
not in one generation enumerate a long catalogue of divorces within its
own contracted circle. Every man had married a series of wives; every
woman a series of husbands. Even in the palace of Augustus, who wished
to be viewed as an _exemplar_ or ideal model of domestic purity, every
principal member of his family was tainted in that way; himself in a
manner and a degree infamous even at that time. [Footnote: Part of the
story is well known, but not the whole. Tiberius Nero, a promising young
nobleman, had recently married a very splendid beauty. Unfortunately for
him, at the marriage of Octavia (sister to Augustus) with Mark Anthony,
he allowed his young wife, then about eighteen, to attend upon the
bride. Augustus was deeply and suddenly fascinated by her charms, and
without further scruple sent a message to Nero--intimating that he was
in love with his wife, and would thank him to resign her. The other,
thinking it vain, in those days of lawless proscription, to contest a
point of this nature with one who commanded twelve legions, obeyed the
requisition. Upon some motive, now unknown, he was persuaded even to
degrade himself farther; for he actually officiated at the marriage
in character of father, and gave away the young beauty to his rival,
although at that time six months advanced in pregnancy by himself. These
humiliating concessions were extorted from him, and yielded (probably
at the instigation of friends) in order to save his life. In the sequel
they had the very opposite result; for he died soon after, and it is
reasonably supposed of grief and mortification. At the marriage feast,
an incident occurred which threw the whole company into confusion: A
little boy, roving from couch to couch among the guests, came at length
to that in which Livia (the bride) was lying by the side of Augustus,
on which he cried out aloud,--"Lady, what are you doing here? You
are mistaken--this is not your husband--he is there," (pointing to
Tiberius,) "go, go--rise, lady, and recline beside _him_."] For the
first 400 years of Rome, not one divorce had been granted or asked,
although the statute which allowed of this indulgence had always been
in force. But in the age succeeding to the civil wars men and women
"married," says one author, "with a view to divorce, and divorced
in order to marry. Many of these changes happened within the year,
especially if the lady had a large fortune, which always went with her,
and procured her choice of transient husbands." And, "can one imagine,"
asks the same writer, "that the fair one, who changed her husband every
quarter, strictly kept her matrimonial faith all the three months?" Thus
the very fountain of all the "household charities" and household
virtues was polluted. And after that we need little wonder at the
assassinations, poisonings, and forging of wills, which then laid waste
the domestic life of the Romans.

2. A second source of the universal depravity was the growing inefficacy
of the public religion; and this arose from its disproportion and
inadequacy to the intellectual advances of the nation. _Religion_, in
its very etymology, has been held to imply a _religatio_, that is, a
reiterated or secondary obligation of morals; a sanction supplementary
to that of the conscience. Now, for a rude and uncultivated people, the
Pagan mythology might not be too gross to discharge the main functions
of a useful religion. So long as the understanding could submit to the
fables of the Pagan creed, so long it was possible that the hopes and
fears built upon that creed might be practically efficient on men's
lives and intentions. But when the foundation gave way, the whole
superstructure of necessity fell to the ground. Those who were obliged
to reject the ridiculous legends which invested the whole of their
Pantheon, together with the fabulous adjudgers of future punishments,
could not but dismiss the punishments, which were, in fact, as
laughable, and as obviously the fictions of human ingenuity, as their
dispensers. In short, the civilized part of the world in those days
lay in this dreadful condition; their intellect had far outgrown their
religion; the disproportions between the two were at length become
monstrous; and as yet no purer or more elevated faith was prepared
for their acceptance. The case was as shocking as if, with our present
intellectual needs, we should be unhappy enough to have no creed on
which to rest the burden of our final hopes and fears, of our moral
obligations, and of our consolations in misery, except the fairy
mythology of our nurses. The condition of a people so situated, of a
people under the calamity of having outgrown its religious faith, has
never been sufficiently considered. It is probable that such a
condition has never existed before or since that era of the world. The
consequences to Rome were--that the reasoning and disputatious part of
her population took refuge from the painful state of doubt in Atheism;
amongst the thoughtless and irreflective the consequences were chiefly
felt in their morals, which were thus sapped in their foundation.

3. A third cause, which from the first had exercised a most baleful
influence upon the arts and upon literature in Rome, had by this time
matured its disastrous tendencies towards the extinction of the moral
sensibilities. This was the circus, and the whole machinery, form and
substance, of the Circensian shows. Why had tragedy no existence as a
part of the Roman literature? Because--and _that_ was a reason which
would have sufficed to stifle all the dramatic genius of Greece and
England--there was too much tragedy in the shape of gross reality,
almost daily before their eyes. The amphitheatre extinguished the
theatre. How was it possible that the fine and intellectual griefs of
the drama should win their way to hearts seared and rendered callous
by the continual exhibition of scenes the most hideous, in which human
blood was poured out like water, and a human life sacrificed at any
moment either to caprice in the populace, or to a strife of rivalry
between the _ayes_ and the _noes_, or as the penalty for any trifling
instance of awkwardness in the performer himself? Even the more innocent
exhibitions, in which brutes only were the sufferers, could not but be
mortal to all the finer sensibilities. Five thousand wild animals, torn
from their native abodes in the wilderness or forest, were often turned
out to be hunted, or for mutual slaughter, in the course of a single
exhibition of this nature; and it sometimes happened, (a fact which of
itself proclaims the course of the public propensities,) that the person
at whose expense the shows were exhibited, by way of paying special
court to the people and meriting their favor, in the way most
conspicuously open to him, issued orders that all, without a solitary
exception, should be slaughtered. He made it known, as the very highest
gratification which the case allowed, that (in the language of our
modern auctioneers) the whole, "without reserve," should perish before
their eyes. Even such spectacles must have hardened the heart, and
blunted the more delicate sensibilities; but these would soon cease to
stimulate the pampered and exhausted sense. From the combats of tigers
or leopards, in which the passions could only be gathered indirectly,
and by way of inference from the motions, the transition must have been
almost inevitable to those of men, whose nobler and more varied passions
spoke directly, and by the intelligible language of the eye, to human
spectators; and from the frequent contemplation of these authorized
murders, in which a whole people, women [Footnote: Augustus, indeed,
strove to exclude the women from one part of the circension spectacles;
and what was that? Simply from the sight of the _Athletæ_, as being
naked. But that they should witness the pangs of the dying gladiators,
he deemed quite allowable. The smooth barbarian considered; that a
license of the first sort offended against decorum, whilst the other
violated only the sanctities of the human heart, and the whole sexual
character of women. It is our opinion, that to the brutalizing effect of
these exhibitions we are to ascribe not only the early extinction of the
Roman drama, but generally the inferiority of Rome to Greece in every
department of the fine arts. The fine temper of Roman sensibility, which
no culture could have brought to the level of the Grecian, was
thus dulled for _every_ application.] as much as men, and children
intermingled with both, looked on with leisurely indifference, with
anxious expectation, or with rapturous delight, whilst below them were
passing the direct sufferings of humanity, and not seldom its dying
pangs, it was impossible to expect a result different from that
which did in fact take place,--universal hardness of heart, obdurate
depravity, and a twofold degradation of human nature, which acted
simultaneously upon the two pillars of morality, (which are otherwise
not often assailed together,) of natural sensibility in the first place,
and, in the second, of conscientious principle.

4. But these were circumstances which applied to the whole population
indiscriminately. Superadded to these, in the case of the emperor, and
affecting _him_ exclusively, was this prodigious disadvantage--that
ancient reverence for the immediate witnesses of his actions, and for
the people and senate who would under other circumstances have exercised
the old functions of the censor, was, as to the emperor, pretty nearly
obliterated. The very title of _imperator_, from which we have derived
our modern one of _emperor_, proclaims the nature of the government, and
the tenure of that office. It was purely a government by the sword, or
permanent _stratocracy_ having a movable head. Never was there a people
who inquired so impertinently as the Romans into the domestic conduct
of each private citizen. No rank escaped this jealous vigilance; and
private liberty, even in the most indifferent circumstances of taste or
expense, was sacrificed to this inquisitorial rigor of _surveillance_
exercised on behalf of the State, sometimes by erroneous patriotism, too
often by malice in disguise. To this spirit the highest public officers
were obliged to bow; the consuls, not less than others. And even the
occasional dictator, if by law irresponsible, acted nevertheless as one
who knew that any change which depressed his party, might eventually
abrogate his privilege. For the first time in the person of an imperator
was seen a supreme autocrat, who had virtually and effectively all the
irresponsibility which the law assigned, and the origin of his office
presumed. Satisfied to know that he possessed such power, Augustus,
as much from natural taste as policy, was glad to dissemble it, and by
every means to withdraw it from public notice. But he had passed his
youth as citizen of a republic; and in the state of transition to
autocracy, in his office of triumvir, had experimentally known the
perils of rivalship, and the pains of foreign control, too feelingly
to provoke unnecessarily any sleeping embers of the republican spirit.
Tiberius, though familiar from his infancy with the servile homage of a
court, was yet modified by the popular temper of Augustus; and he came
late to the throne. Caligula was the first prince on whom the entire
effect of his political situation was allowed to operate; and the
natural results were seen--he was the first absolute monster. He must
early have seen the realities of his position, and from what quarter it
was that any cloud could arise to menace his security. To the senate or
people any respect which he might think proper to pay, must have been
imputed by all parties to the lingering superstitions of custom, to
involuntary habit, to court dissimulation, or to the decencies of
external form, and the prescriptive reverence of ancient names. But
neither senate nor people could enforce their claims, whatever they
might happen to be. Their sanction and ratifying vote might be worth
having, as consecrating what was already secure, and conciliating the
scruples of the weak to the absolute decision of the strong. But their
resistance, as an original movement, was so wholly without hope, that
they were never weak enough to threaten it.

The army was the true successor to their places, being the _ultimate_
depository of power. Yet, as the army was necessarily subdivided, as the
shifting circumstances upon every frontier were continually varying the
strength of the several divisions as to numbers and state of discipline,
one part might be balanced against the other by an imperator standing
in the centre of the whole. The rigor of the military _sacramentum_, or
oath of allegiance, made it dangerous to offer the first overtures to
rebellion; and the money, which the soldiers were continually depositing
in the bank, placed at the foot of their military standards, if
sometimes turned against the emperor, was also liable to be sequestrated
in his favor. There were then, in fact, two great forces in the
government acting in and by each other--the Stratocracy, and the
Autocracy. Each needed the other; each stood in awe of each. But, as
regarded all other forces in the empire, constitutional or irregular,
popular or senatorial, neither had any thing to fear. Under any ordinary
circumstances, therefore, considering the hazards of a rebellion, the
emperor was substantially liberated from all control. Vexations or
outrages upon the populace were not such to the army. It was but rarely
that the soldier participated in the emotions of the citizen. And thus,
being effectually without check, the most vicious of the Cæsars went on
without fear, presuming upon the weakness of one part of his subjects,
and the indifference of the other, until he was tempted onwards to
atrocities, which armed against him the common feelings of human
nature, and all mankind, as it were, rose in a body with one voice, and
apparently with one heart, united by mere force of indignant sympathy,
to put him down, and "abate" him as a monster. But, until he brought
matters to this extremity, Cæsar had no cause to fear. Nor was it at all
certain, in any one instance, where this exemplary chastisement overtook
him, that the apparent unanimity of the actors went further than the
_practical_ conclusion of "abating" the imperial nuisance, or that their
indignation had settled upon the same offences. In general the army
measured the guilt by the public scandal, rather than by its moral
atrocity; and Cæsar suffered perhaps in every case, not so much because
he had violated his duties, as because he had dishonored his office.

It is, therefore, in the total absence of the checks which have almost
universally existed to control other despots, under some indirect shape,
even where none was provided by the laws, that we must seek for the
main peculiarity affecting the condition of the Roman Cæsar, which
peculiarity it was, superadded to the other three, that finally made
those three operative in their fullest extent. It is in the perfection
of the stratocracy that we must look for the key to the excesses of the
autocrat. Even in the bloody despotisms of the Barbary States, there has
always existed in the religious prejudices of the people, which could
not be violated with safety, one check more upon the caprices of the
despot than was found at Rome. Upon the whole, therefore, what affects
us on the first reading as a prodigy or anomaly in the frantic outrages
of the early Cæsars--falls within the natural bounds of intelligible
human nature, when we state the case considerately. Surrounded by a
population which had not only gone through a most vicious and corrupting
discipline, and had been utterly ruined by the license of revolutionary
times, and the bloodiest proscriptions, but had even been extensively
changed in its very elements, and from the descendants of Romulus had
been transmuted into an Asiatic mob;--starting from this point, and
considering as the second feature of the case, that this transfigured
people, _morally_ so degenerate, were carried, however, by the progress
of civilization to a certain intellectual altitude, which the popular
religion had not strength to ascend--but from inherent disproportion
remained at the base of the general civilization, incapable of
accompanying the other elements in their advance;--thirdly, that this
polished condition of society, which should naturally with the evils of
a luxurious repose have counted upon its pacific benefits, had yet, by
means of its circus and its gladiatorial contests, applied a constant
irritation, and a system of provocations to the appetites for blood,
such as in all other nations are connected with the rudest stages of
society, and with the most barbarous modes of warfare, nor even in such
circumstances without many palliatives wanting to the spectators of the
circus;--combining these considerations, we have already a key to the
enormities and hideous excesses of the Roman Imperator. The hot blood
which excites, and the adventurous courage which accompanies, the
excesses of sanguinary warfare, presuppose a condition of the moral
nature not to be compared for malignity and baleful tendency to the
cool and cowardly spirit of amateurship, in which the Roman (perhaps
an effeminate Asiatic) sat looking down upon the bravest of men,
(Thracians, or other Europeans,) mangling each other for his recreation.
When, lastly, from such a population, and thus disciplined from
his nursery days, we suppose the case of one individual selected,
privileged, and raised to a conscious irresponsibility, except at
the bar of one extra-judicial tribunal, not easily irritated, and
notoriously to be propitiated by other means than those of upright
or impartial conduct, we lay together the elements of a situation too
trying for poor human nature, and fitted only to the faculties of an
angel or a demon; of an angel, if we suppose him to resist its
full temptations; of a demon, if we suppose him to use its total
opportunities. Thus interpreted and solved, Caligula and Nero become
ordinary men.

But, finally, what if, after all, the worst of the Cæsars, and those
in particular, were entitled to the benefit of a still shorter and more
conclusive apology? What if, in a true medical sense, they were insane?
It is certain that a vein of madness ran in the family; and anecdotes
are recorded of the three worst, which go far to establish it as a fact,
and others which would imply it as symptoms--preceding or accompanying.
As belonging to the former class, take the following story: At midnight
an elderly gentleman suddenly sends round a message to a select party
of noblemen, rouses them out of bed, and summons them instantly to his
palace. Trembling for their lives from the suddenness of the summons,
and from the unseasonable hour, and scarcely doubting that by
some anonymous _delator_ they have been implicated as parties to a
conspiracy, they hurry to the palace--are received in portentous silence
by the ushers and pages in attendance--are conducted to a saloon, where
(as in every where else) the silence of night prevails, united with the
silence of fear and whispering expectation. All are seated--all look at
each other in ominous anxiety. Which is accuser? Which is the accused?
On whom shall their suspicion settle--on whom their pity? All are
silent--almost speechless--and even the current of their thoughts is
frost-bound by fear. Suddenly the sound of a fiddle or a viol is caught
from a distance--it swells upon the ear--steps approach--and in
another moment in rushes the elderly gentleman, grave and gloomy as his
audience, but capering about in a frenzy of excitement. For half an
hour he continues to perform all possible evolutions of caprioles,
pirouettes, and other extravagant feats of activity, accompanying
himself on the fiddle; and, at length, not having once looked at
his guests, the elderly gentleman whirls out of the room in the same
transport of emotion with which he entered it; the panic-struck visitors
are requested by a slave to consider themselves as dismissed: they
retire; resume their couches:--the nocturnal pageant has "dislimned" and
vanished; and on the following morning, were it not for their concurring
testimonies, all would be disposed to take this interruption of their
sleep for one of its most fantastic dreams. The elderly gentleman, who
figured in this delirious _pas seul_--who was he? He was Tiberius Cæsar,
king of kings, and lord of the terraqueous globe. Would a British jury
demand better evidence than this of a disturbed intellect in any formal
process _de lunatico inquirendo_? For Caligula, again, the evidence of
symptoms is still plainer. He knew his own defect; and purposed going
through a course of hellebore. Sleeplessness, one of the commonest
indications of lunacy, haunted him in an excess rarely recorded.
[Footnote: No fiction of romance presents so awful a picture of the
ideal tyrant as that of Caligula by Suetonius. His palace--radiant with
purple and gold, but murder every where lurking beneath flowers; his
smiles and echoing laughter--masking (yet hardly meant to mask) his
foul treachery of heart; his hideous and tumultuous dreams--his baffled
sleep--and his sleepless nights--compose the picture of an Æschylus.
What a master's sketch lies in these few lines: "Incitabatur insomnio
maxime; neque enim plus tribus horis nocturnis quiescebat; ac ne his
placida quiete, at pavida miris rerum imaginibus: ut qui inter ceteras
pelagi quondam speciem colloquentem secum videre visus sit. Ideoque
magna parte noctis, vigilse cubandique tsedio, nunc toro residens, nunc
per longissimas porticus vagus, invocare identidem atque exspectare
lucem consueverat:"--i. e., But, above all, he was tormented with
nervous irritation, by sleeplessness; for he enjoyed not more than three
hours of nocturnal repose; nor these even in pure untroubled rest, but
agitated by phantasmata of portentous augury; as, for example, upon
one occasion he fancied that he saw the sea, under some definite
impersonation, conversing with himself. Hence it was, and from this
incapacity of sleeping, and from weariness of lying awake, that he had
fallen into habits of ranging all the night long through the palace,
sometimes throwing himself on a couch, sometimes wandering along the
vast corridors, watching for the earliest dawn, and anxiously invoking
its approach.] The same, or similar facts, might be brought forward on
behalf of Nero. And thus these unfortunate princes, who have so long
(and with so little investigation of their cases) passed for monsters or
for demoniac counterfeits of men, would at length be brought back within
the fold of humanity, as objects rather of pity than of abhorrence,
would be reconciled to our indulgent feelings, and, at the same time,
made intelligible to our understandings.


The five Cæsars who succeeded immediately to the first twelve, were, in
as high a sense as their office allowed, patriots. Hadrian is perhaps
the first of all whom circumstances permitted to show his patriotism
without fear. It illustrates at one and the same moment a trait in this
emperor's character, and in the Roman habits, that he acquired
much reputation for hardiness by walking bareheaded. "Never, on any
occasion," says one of his memorialists (Dio,) "neither in summer heat
nor in winter's cold, did he cover his head; but, as well in the Celtic
snows as in Egyptian heats, he went about bareheaded." This anecdote
could not fail to win the especial admiration of Isaac Casaubon, who
lived in an age when men believed a hat no less indispensable to the
head, even within doors, than shoes or stockings to the feet. His
astonishment on the occasion is thus expressed: "Tantum est _hæ
aschæsis_:" such and so mighty is the force of habit and daily use. And
then he goes on to ask--"Quis hodie nudum caput radiis solis, aut
omnia perurenti frigori, ausit exponere?" Yet we ourselves, and our
illustrious friend, Christopher North, have walked for twenty years
amongst our British lakes and mountains hatless, and amidst both snow
and rain, such as Romans did not often experience. We were naked, and
yet not ashamed. Nor in this are we altogether singular. But, says
Casaubon, the Romans went farther; for they walked about the streets
of Rome [Footnote: And hence we may the better estimate the trial to a
Roman's feelings in the personal deformity of baldness, connected with
the Roman theory of its cause, for the exposure of it was perpetual.]
bareheaded, and never assumed a hat or a cap, a _petasus_ or a
_galerus_, a Macedonian _causia_, or a _pileus_, whether Thessalian,
Arcadian, or Laconic, unless when they entered upon a journey. Nay, some
there were, as Masinissa and Julius Cæsar, who declined even on such an
occasion to cover their heads. Perhaps in imitation of these celebrated
leaders, Hadrian adopted the same practice, but not with the same
result; for to him, either from age or constitution, this very custom
proved the original occasion of his last illness.

Imitation, indeed, was a general principle of action with Hadrian, and
the key to much of his public conduct; and allowably enough, considering
the exemplary lives (in a public sense) of some who had preceded him,
and the singular anxiety with which he distinguished between the lights
and shadows of their examples. He imitated the great Dictator, Julius,
in his vigilance of inspection into the civil, not less than the martial
police of his times, shaping his new regulations to meet abuses as they
arose, and strenuously maintaining the old ones in vigorous operation.
As respected the army, this was matter of peculiar praise, because
peculiarly disinterested; for his foreign policy was pacific; [Footnote:
"Expeditiones sub eo," says Spartian, "graves nullæ fuerunt. Bella etiam
silentio pene transacta." But he does not the less add, "A militibus,
propter curam exercitus nimiam, multum amatus est."] he made no new
conquests; and he retired from the old ones of Trajan, where they
could not have been maintained without disproportionate bloodshed, or
a jealousy beyond the value of the stake. In this point of his
administration he took Augustus for his model; as again in his care of
the army, in his occasional bounties, and in his paternal solicitude for
their comforts, he looked rather to the example of Julius. Him also he
imitated in his affability and in his ambitious courtesies; one instance
of which, as blending an artifice of political subtlety and simulation
with a remarkable exertion of memory, it may be well to mention. The
custom was, in canvassing the citizens of Rome, that the candidate
should address every voter by his name; it was a fiction of republican
etiquette, that every man participating in the political privileges of
the State must be personally known to public aspirants. But, as this
was supposed to be, in a literal sense, impossible to all men with the
ordinary endowments of memory, in order to reconcile the pretensions of
republican hauteur with the necessities of human weakness, a custom had
grown up of relying upon a class of men, called _nomenclators_, whose
express business and profession it was to make themselves acquainted
with the person and name of every citizen. One of these people
accompanied every candidate, and quietly whispered into his ear the
name of each voter as he came in sight. Few, indeed, were they who could
dispense with the services of such an assessor; for the office imposed
a twofold memory, that of names and of persons; and to estimate the
immensity of the effort, we must recollect that the number of voters
often far exceeded one quarter of a million. The very same trial of
memory he undertook with respect to his own army, in this instance
recalling the well known feat of Mithridates. And throughout his life he
did not once forget the face or name of any veteran soldier whom he ever
had occasion to notice, no matter under what remote climate, or under
what difference of circumstances. Wonderful is the effect upon soldiers
of such enduring and separate remembrance, which operates always as the
most touching kind of personal flattery, and which, in every age of the
world, since the social sensibilities of men have been much developed,
military commanders are found to have played upon as the most effectual
chord in the great system which they modulated; some few, by a rare
endowment of nature; others, as Napoleon Bonaparte, by elaborate
mimicries of pantomimic art. [Footnote: In the true spirit of Parisian
mummery, Bonaparte caused letters to be written from the War-office,
in his own name, to particular soldiers of high military reputation in
every brigade, (whose private history he had previously caused to be
investigated,) alluding circumstantially to the leading facts in their
personal or family career; a furlough accompanied this letter, and they
were requested to repair to Paris, where the emperor anxiously desired
to see them. Thus was the paternal interest expressed, which their
leader took in each man's fortunes; and the effect of every such letter,
it was not doubted, would diffuse itself through ten thousand other

Other modes he had of winning affection from the army; in particular
that, so often practised before and since, of accommodating himself
to the strictest ritual of martial discipline and castrensian life. He
slept in the open air, or, if he used a tent (papilio), it was open at
the sides. He ate the ordinary rations of cheese, bacon, &c.; he used
no other drink than that composition of vinegar and water, known by the
name of _posca_, which formed the sole beverage allowed in the
Roman camps. He joined personally in the periodical exercises of the
army--those even which were trying to the most vigorous youth and
health: marching, for example, on stated occasions, twenty English miles
without intermission, in full armor and completely accoutred. Luxury of
every kind he not only interdicted to the soldier by severe ordinances,
himself enforcing their execution, but discountenanced it (though
elsewhere splendid and even gorgeous in his personal habits) by his
own continual example. In dress, for instance, he sternly banished
the purple and gold embroideries, the jewelled arms, and the floating
draperies so little in accordance with the-severe character of "_war
in procinct_" [Footnote: "_War in procinct_"--a phrase of Milton's
in Paradise Regained, which strikingly illustrates his love of Latin
phraseology; for unless to a scholar, previously acquainted with the
Latin phrase of _in procinctu_, it is so absolutely unintelligible as to
interrupt the current of the feeling.] Hardly would he allow himself
an ivory hilt to his sabre. The same severe proscription he extended to
every sort of furniture, or decorations of art, which sheltered even
in the bosom of camps those habits of effeminate luxury--so apt in all
great empires to steal by imperceptible steps from the voluptuous
palace to the soldier's tent--following in the equipage of great leading
officers, or of subalterns highly connected. There was at that time
a practice prevailing, in the great standing camps on the several
frontiers and at all the military stations, of renewing as much as
possible the image of distant Rome by the erection of long colonnades
and piazzas--single, double, or triple; of crypts, or subterranean
[Footnote: "_Crypts_"--these, which Spartian, in his life of Hadrian,
denominates simply _cryptæ_, are the same which, in the Roman
jurisprudence, and in the architectural works of the Romans, yet
surviving, are termed _hypogæa deambulationes, i. e._ subterranean
parades. Vitruvius treats of this luxurious class of apartments in
connection with the Apothecæ, and other repositories or store-rooms,
which were also in many cases under ground, for the same reason as our
ice-houses, wine-cellars, &c. He (and from him Pliny and Apollonaris
Sidonius), calls them _crypto-porticus_ (cloistral colonnades); and
Ulpian calls them _refugia_ (sanctuaries, or places of refuge);
St. Ambrose notices them under the name of _hypogæa_ and _umbrosa
penetralia_, as the resorts of voluptuaries: _Luxuriosorum est_, says
he, _hypogæa quærere--captantium frigus æstivum_; and again he speaks of
_desidiosi qui ignava sub terris agant otia_.] saloons, (and sometimes
subterranean galleries and corridors,) for evading the sultry noontides
of July and August; of verdant cloisters or arcades, with roofs high
over-arched, constructed entirely out of flexile shrubs, box-myrtle,
and others, trained and trimmed in regular forms; besides endless other
applications of the _topiary_ [Footnote: "_The topiary art_"--so called,
as Salmasius thinks, from _ropæion, a rope_; because the process of
construction was conducted chiefly by means of cords and strings. This
art was much practised in the 17th century; and Casaubon describes one,
which existed in his early days somewhere in the suburbs of Paris, on
so elaborate a scale, that it represented Troy besieged, with the
two hosts, their several leaders, and all other objects in their full
proportion.] art, which in those days (like the needlework of Miss
Linwood in ours), though no more than a mechanic craft, in some
measure realized the effects of a fine art by the perfect skill of its
execution. All these modes of luxury, with a policy that had the
more merit as it thwarted his own private inclinations, did Hadrian
peremptorily abolish; perhaps, amongst other more obvious purposes,
seeking to intercept the earliest buddings of those local attachments
which are as injurious to the martial character and the proper pursuits
of men whose vocation obliges them to consider themselves eternally
under marching orders, as they are propitious to all the best interests
of society in connection with the feelings of civic life.

We dwell upon this prince not without reason in this particular; for,
amongst the Cæsars, Hadrian stands forward in high relief as a reformer
of the army. Well and truly might it be said of him--that, _post Cæsarem
Octavianum labantem disciplinam, incurid superiorum principum, ipse
retinuit_. Not content with the cleansings and purgations we have
mentioned, he placed upon a new footing the whole tenure, duties, and
pledges, of military offices. [Footnote: Very remarkable it is, and a
fact which speaks volumes as to the democratic constitution of the Roman
army, in the midst of that aristocracy which enveloped its parent state
in a civil sense, that although there was a name for a _common soldier_
(or _sentinel_, as he was termed by our ancestors)--viz. _miles
gregarius_, or _miles manipularis_--there was none for an _officer_;
that is to say, each several rank of officers had a name; but there was
no generalization to express the idea of an officer abstracted from
its several species or classes.] It cannot much surprise us that this
department of the public service should gradually have gone to ruin or
decay. Under the senate and people, under the auspices of those awful
symbols--letters more significant and ominous than ever before had
troubled the eyes of man, except upon Belshazzar's wall--S.P.Q.R.,
the officers of the Roman army had been kept true to their duties, and
vigilant by emulation and a healthy ambition. But, when the ripeness of
corruption had by dissolving the body of the State brought out of its
ashes a new mode of life, and had recast the aristocratic republic, by
aid of its democratic elements then suddenly victorious, into a pure
autocracy--whatever might be the advantages in other respects of this
great change, in one point it had certainly injured the public service,
by throwing the higher military appointments, all in fact which
conferred any authority, into the channels of court favor--and by
consequence into a mercenary disposal. Each successive emperor had been
too anxious for his own immediate security, to find leisure for the
remoter interests of the empire: all looked to the army, as it were, for
their own immediate security against competitors, without venturing to
tamper with its constitution, to risk popularity by reforming abuses,
to balance present interest against a remote one, or to cultivate the
public welfare at the hazard of their own: contented with obtaining
_that_, they left the internal arrangements of so formidable a body in
the state to which circumstances had brought it, and to which naturally
the views of all existing beneficiaries had gradually adjusted
themselves. What these might be, and to what further results they might
tend, was a matter of moment doubtless to the empire. But the empire
was strong; if its motive energy was decaying, its _vis inertia_ was
for ages enormous, and could stand up against assaults repeated for many
ages: whilst the emperor was in the beginning of his authority weak, and
pledged by instant interest, no less than by express promises, to the
support of that body whose favor had substantially supported himself.
Hadrian was the first who turned his attention effectually in that
direction; whether it were that he first was struck with the tendency
of the abuses, or that he valued the hazard less which he incurred in
correcting them, or that, having no successor of his own blood, he had a
less personal and affecting interest at stake in setting this hazard at
defiance. Hitherto, the highest regimental rank, that of tribune, had
been disposed of in two ways, either civilly upon popular favor and
election, or upon the express recommendation of the soldiery. This
custom had prevailed under the republic, and the force of habit had
availed to propagate that practice under a new mode of government. But
now were introduced new regulations: the tribune was selected for his
military qualities and experience: none was appointed to this important
office, "_nisi barbâ plenâ_" The centurion's truncheon, [Footnote:
_Vitis_: and it deserves to be mentioned, that this staff, or cudgel,
which was the official engine and cognizance of the Centurion's dignity,
was meant expressly to be used in caning or cudgelling the inferior
soldiers: "_propterea_ vitis in manum data," says Salmasius,
"_verberando scilicet militi qui deliquisset_." We are no patrons
of corporal chastisement, which, on the contrary, as the vilest of
degradations, we abominate. The soldier, who does not feel himself
dishonored by it, is already dishonored beyond hope or redemption.
But still let this degradation not be imputed to the English army
exclusively.] again, was given to no man, "_nisi robusto et bonæ famæ_."
The arms and military appointments (_supellectilis_) were revised; the
register of names was duly called over; and none suffered to remain
in the camps who was either above or below the military age. The same
vigilance and jealousy were extended to the great stationary stores and
repositories of biscuit, vinegar, and other equipments for the soldiery.
All things were in constant readiness in the capital and the provinces,
in the garrisons and camps, abroad and at home, to meet the outbreak
of a foreign war or a domestic sedition. Whatever were the service, it
could by no possibility find Hadrian unprepared. And he first, in fact,
of all the Cæsars, restored to its ancient republican standard, as
reformed and perfected by Marius, the old martial discipline of the
Scipios and the Paulli--that discipline, to which, more than to any
physical superiority of her soldiery, Rome had been indebted for her
conquest of the earth; and which had inevitably decayed in the long
series of wars growing out of personal ambition. From the days of
Marius, every great leader had sacrificed to the necessities of courting
favor from the troops, as much as was possible of the hardships
incident to actual service, and as much as he dared of the once rigorous
discipline. Hadrian first found himself in circumstances, or was the
first who had courage enough to decline a momentary interest in favor
of a greater in reversion; and a personal object which was transient, in
favor of a state one continually revolving.

For a prince, with no children of his own, it is in any case a task
of peculiar delicacy to select a successor. In the Roman empire the
difficulties were much aggravated. The interests of the State were, in
the first place, to be consulted; for a mighty burthen of responsibility
rested upon the emperor in the most personal sense. Duties of every
kind fell to his station, which, from the peculiar constitution of the
government, and from circumstances rooted in the very origin of the
imperatorial office, could not be devolved upon a council. Council there
was none, nor could be recognised as such in the State machinery. The
emperor, himself a sacred and sequestered creature, might be supposed to
enjoy the secret tutelage of the Supreme Deity; but a council, composed
of subordinate and responsible agents, could _not_. Again, the auspices
of the emperor, and his edicts, apart even from any celestial or
supernatural inspiration, simply as emanations of his own divine
character, had a value and a consecration which could never belong
to those of a council--or to those even which had been sullied by the
breath of any less august reviser. The emperor, therefore, or--as with
a view to his solitary and unique character we ought to call him--in
the original irrepresentable term, the imperator, could not delegate
his duties, or execute them in any avowed form by proxies or
representatives. He was himself the great fountain of law--of honor--of
preferment--of civil and political regulations. He was the fountain also
of good and evil fame. He was the great chancellor, or supreme dispenser
of equity to all climates, nations, languages, of his mighty dominions,
which connected the turbaned races of the Orient, and those who sat
in the gates of the rising sun, with the islands of the West, and the
unfathomed depths of the mysterious Scandinavia. He was the universal
guardian of the public and private interests which composed the great
edifice of the social system as then existing amongst his subjects.
Above all, and out of his own private purse, he supported the heraldries
of his dominions--the peerage, senatorial or prætorian, and the great
gentry or chivalry of the Equites. These were classes who would have
been dishonored by the censorship of a less august comptroller. And, for
the classes below these,--by how much they were lower and more remote
from his ocular superintendence,--by so much the more were they linked
to him in a connection of absolute dependence. Cæsar it was who provided
their daily food, Cæsar who provided their pleasures and relaxations.
He chartered the fleets which brought grain to the Tiber--he bespoke the
Sardinian granaries whilst yet unformed--and the harvests of the Nile
whilst yet unsown. Not the connection between a mother and her unborn
infant is more intimate and vital, than that which subsisted between the
mighty populace of the Roman capital and their paternal emperor. They
drew their nutriment from him; they lived and were happy by sympathy
with the motions of his will; to him also the arts, the knowledge,
and the literature of the empire looked for support. To him the armies
looked for their laurels, and the eagles in every clime turned their
aspiring eyes, waiting to bend their flight according to the signal of
his Jovian nod. And all these vast functions and ministrations arose
partly as a natural effect, but partly also they were a cause of the
emperor's own divinity. He was capable of services so exalted, because
he also was held a god, and had his own altars, his own incense, his own
worship and priests. And that was the cause, and that was the result of
his bearing, on his own shoulders, a burthen so mighty and Atlantean.

Yet, if in this view it was needful to have a man of talent, on the
other hand there was reason to dread a man of talents too adventurous,
too aspiring, or too intriguing. His situation, as Cæsar, or Crown
Prince, flung into his hands a power of fomenting conspiracies, and of
concealing them until the very moment of explosion, which made him an
object of almost exclusive terror to his principal, the Cæsar Augustus.
His situation again, as an heir voluntarily adopted, made him the
proper object of public affection and caresses, which became peculiarly
embarrassing to one who had, perhaps, soon found reasons for suspecting,
fearing, and hating him beyond all other men.

The young nobleman, whom Hadrian adopted by his earliest choice, was
Lucius Aurelius Verus, the son of Cejonius Commodus. These names were
borne also by the son; but, after his adoption into the Ælian family,
he was generally known by the appellation of Ælius Verus. The scandal of
those times imputed his adoption to the worst motives. "_Adriano_," says
one author, ("_ut malevoli loquuntur_) _acceptior formâ quam moribus_"
And thus much undoubtedly there is to countenance so shocking an
insinuation, that very little is recorded of the young prince but such
anecdotes as illustrate his excessive luxury and effeminate dedication
to pleasure. Still it is our private opinion, that Hadrian's real
motives have been misrepresented; that he sought in the young man's
extraordinary beauty--[for he was, says Spartian, _pulchritudinis
regiæ_]--a plausible pretext that should be sufficient to explain and
to countenance his preference, whilst under this provisional adoption
he was enabled to postpone the definitive choice of an imperator
elect, until his own more advanced age might diminish the motives for
intriguing against himself. It was, therefore, a mere _ad interim_
adoption; for it is certain, however we may choose to explain that fact,
that Hadrian foresaw and calculated on the early death of Ælius. This
prophetic knowledge may have been grounded on a private familiarity with
some constitutional infirmity affecting his daily health, or with some
habits of life incompatible with longevity, or with both combined. It
is pretended that this distinguished mark of favor was conferred in
fulfilment of a direct contract on the emperor's part, as the price of
favors such as the Latin reader will easily understand from the strong
expression of Spartian above cited. But it is far more probable that
Hadrian relied on this admirable beauty, and allowed it so much weight,
as the readiest and most intelligible justification to the multitude,
of a choice which thus offered to their homage a public favorite--and
to the nobility, of so invidious a preference, which placed one of their
own number far above the level of his natural rivals. The necessities
of the moment were thus satisfied without present or future danger;--as
respected the future, he knew or believed that Verus was marked out for
early death; and would often say, in a strain of compliment somewhat
disproportionate, applying to him the Virgilian lines on the hopeful and
lamented Marcellus,

  "Ostendent terris hunc tantum fata, neque ultra
  Esse sinent."

And, at the same time, to countenance the belief that he had been
disappointed, he would affect to sigh, exclaiming--"Ah! that I should
thus fruitlessly have squandered a sum of three [Footnote: In the
original _ter millies_, which is not much above two millions and 150
thousand pounds sterling; but it must be remembered that one third as
much, in addition to this popular largess, had been given to the army.]
millions sterling!" for so much had been distributed in largesses to the
people and the army on the occasion of his inauguration. Meantime, as
respected the present, the qualities of the young man were amply fitted
to sustain a Roman popularity; for, in addition to his extreme and
statuesque beauty of person, he was (in the report of one who did not
wish to color his character advantageously) "_memor families suce,
comptus, decorus, oris venerandi, eloquentice, celsioris, versufacilis,
in republicâ etiam non inutilis_." Even as a military officer, he had
a respectable [Footnote:--"nam bene gesti rebus, vel potius feliciter,
etsi nori summi--medii tamen obtinuit ducis famam."] character; as an
orator he was more than respectable; and in other qualifications less
interesting to the populace, he had that happy mediocrity of merit which
was best fitted for his delicate and difficult situation--sufficient to
do credit to the emperor's preference--sufficient to sustain the popular
regard, but not brilliant enough to throw his patron into the shade.
For the rest, his vices were of a nature not greatly or necessarily to
interfere with his public duties, and emphatically such as met with the
readiest indulgence from the Roman laxity of morals. Some few instances,
indeed, are noticed of cruelty; but there is reason to think that it was
merely by accident, and as an indirect result of other purposes, that he
ever allowed himself in such manifestations of irresponsible power--not
as gratifying any harsh impulses of his native character. The most
remarkable neglect of humanity with which he has been taxed, occurred
in the treatment of his couriers; these were the bearers of news and
official dispatches, at that time fulfilling the functions of the modern
post; and it must be remembered that as yet they were not slaves, (as
afterwards by the reformation of Alexander Severus,) but free citizens.
They had been already dressed in a particular livery or uniform, and
possibly they might wear some symbolical badges of their profession;
but the new Cæsar chose to dress them altogether in character as winged
Cupids, affixing literal wings to their shoulders, and facetiously
distinguishing them by the names of the four cardinal winds, (Boreas,
Aquilo, Notus, &c.) and others as levanters or hurricanes, (Circius,
&c.) Thus far he did no more than indulge a blameless fancy; but in
his anxiety that his runners should emulate their patron winds, and
do credit to the names which he had assigned them, he is said to have
exacted a degree of speed inconsistent with any merciful regard for
their bodily powers.[Footnote: This, however, is a point in which royal
personages claim an old prescriptive right to be unreasonable in their
exactions and some, even amongst the most humane of Christian princes,
have erred as flagrantly as Ælius Verus. George IV., we have understood,
was generally escorted from Balkeith to Holyrood at a rate of twenty-two
miles an hour. And of his father, the truly kind and paternal king, it
is recorded by Miss Hawkins, (daughter of Sir J. Hawkins, the biographer
of Johnson, &c.) that families who happened to have a son, brother,
lover, &c. in the particular regiment of cavalry which furnished the
escort for the day, used to suffer as much anxiety for the result as
on the eve of a great battle.] But these were, after all, perhaps, mere
improvements of malice upon some solitary incident. The true stain upon
his memory, and one which is open to no doubt whatever, is excessive and
extravagant luxury--excessive in degree, extravagant and even
ludicrous in its forms. For example, he constructed a sort of bed or
sofa--protected from insects by an awning of network composed of lilies,
delicately fabricated into the proper meshes, &c., and the couches
composed wholly of rose-leaves; and even of these, not without an
exquisite preparation; for the white parts of the leaves, as coarser
and harsher to the touch, (possibly, also, as less odorous,) were
scrupulously rejected. Here he lay indolently stretched amongst favorite

  "And like a naked Indian slept himself away."

He had also tables composed of the same delicate material--prepared and
purified in the same elaborate way--and to these were adapted seats in
the fashion of sofas (_accubationes_,) corresponding in their materials,
and in their mode of preparation. He was also an expert performer, and
even an original inventor, in the art of cookery; and one dish of his
discovery, which, from its four component parts, obtained the name
of _tetrapharmacum_, was so far from owing its celebrity to its royal
birth, that it maintained its place on Hadrian's table to the time
of his death. These, however, were mere fopperies or pardonable
extravagancies in one so young and so exalted; "quæ, etsi non decora,"
as the historian observes, "non tamen ad perniciem publicam prompta
sunt." A graver mode of licentiousness appeared in his connections with
women. He made no secret of his lawless amours; and to his own wife,
on her expostulating with him on his aberrations in this respect, he
replied--that "_wife_" was a designation of rank and official dignity,
not of tenderness and affection, or implying any claim of love on either
side; upon which distinction he begged that she would mind her own
affairs, and leave him to pursue such as he might himself be involved in
by his sensibility to female charms.

However, he and all his errors, his "regal beauty," his princely pomps,
and his authorized hopes, were suddenly swallowed up by the inexorable
grave; and he would have passed away like an exhalation, and leaving no
remembrance of himself more durable than his own beds of rose-leaves,
and his reticulated canopies of lilies, had it not been that Hadrian
filled the world with images of his perfect fawn-like beauty in the
shape of colossal statues, and raised temples even to his memory in
various cities. This Cæsar, therefore, dying thus prematurely, never
tasted of empire; and his name would have had but a doubtful title to
a place in the imperatorial roll, had it not been recalled to a second
chance for the sacred honors in the person of his son--whom it was the
pleasure of Hadrian, by way of testifying his affection for the father,
to associate in the order of succession with the philosophic Marcus
Aurelius Antoninus. This fact, and the certainty that to the second
Julius Verus he gave his own daughter in marriage, rather than to his
associate Cæsar Marcus Aurelius, make it evident that his regret for the
elder Verus was unaffected and deep; and they overthrow effectually the
common report of historians--that he repented of his earliest choice, as
of one that had been disappointed not by the decrees of fate, but by the
violent defect of merits in its object. On the contrary, he prefaced his
inauguration of this junior Cæsar by the following tender words--Let us
confound the rapine of the grave, and let the empire possess amongst her
rulers a second Ælius Verus.

"_Diis aliter visum est:_" the blood of the Ælian family was not
privileged to ascend or aspire: it gravitated violently to extinction;
and this junior Verus is supposed to have been as much indebted to his
assessor on the throne for shielding his obscure vices, and drawing over
his defects the ample draperies of the imperatorial robe, as he was to
Hadrian, his grandfather by fiction of law, for his adoption into the
reigning family, and his consecration as one of the Cæsars. He, says one
historian, shed no ray of light or illustration upon the imperial house,
except by one solitary quality. This bears a harsh sound; but it has the
effect of a sudden redemption for his memory, when we learn--that this
solitary quality, in virtue of which he claimed a natural affinity to
the sacred house, and challenged a natural interest in the purple, was
the very princely one of--a merciful disposition.

The two Antonines fix an era in the imperial history; for they were both
eminent models of wise and good rulers; and some would say, that they
fixed a crisis; for with their successor commenced, in the popular
belief, the decline of the empire. That at least is the doctrine of
Gibbon; but perhaps it would not be found altogether able to sustain
itself against a closer and philosophic examination of the true elements
involved in the idea of declension as applied to political bodies. Be
that as it may, however, and waiving any interest which might happen to
invest the Antonines as the last princes who kept up the empire to its
original level, both of them had enough of merit to challenge a separate
notice in their personal characters, and apart from the accidents of
their position.

The elder of the two, who is usually distinguished by the title of
_Pius_, is thus described by one of his biographers:--"He was externally
of remarkable beauty; eminent for his moral character, full of benign
dispositions, noble, with a countenance of a most gentle expression,
intellectually of singular endowments, possessing an elegant style of
eloquence, distinguished for his literature, generally temperate,
an earnest lover of agricultural pursuits, mild in his deportment,
bountiful in the use of his own, but a stern respecter of the rights of
others; and, finally, he was all this without ostentation, and with a
constant regard to the proportions of cases, and to the demands of time
and place." His bounty displayed itself in a way, which may be worth
mentioning, as at once illustrating the age, and the prudence with which
he controlled the most generous of his impulses:--"_Finus trientarium_,"
says the historian, "_hoc est minimis usuris exercuit, ut patrimonio
suo plurimos adjuvaret_." The meaning of which is this:--in Rome, the
customary interest for money was what was called _centesimæ usuræ_; that
is, the hundredth part, or one per cent. But, as this expressed not the
annual, but the _monthly_ interest, the true rate was, in fact, twelve
per cent.; and that is the meaning of _centesimæ usuræ_. Nor could money
be obtained any where on better terms than these; and, moreover, this
one per cent, was exacted rigorously as the monthly day came round, no
arrears being suffered to lie over. Under these circumstances, it was
a prodigious service to lend money at a diminished rate, and one which
furnished many men with the means of saving themselves from ruin.
Pius then, by way of extending his aid as far as possible, reduced the
monthly rate of his loans to one-third per cent., which made the annual
interest the very moderate one of four per cent. The channels, which
public spirit had as yet opened to the beneficence of the opulent, were
few indeed: charity and munificence languished, or they were abused,
or they were inefficiently directed, simply through defects in the
structure of society. Social organization, for its large development,
demanded the agency of newspapers, (together with many other forms
of assistance from the press,) of banks, of public carriages on an
extensive scale, besides infinite other inventions or establishments not
yet created--which support and powerfully react upon that same progress
of society which originally gave birth to themselves. All things
considered, in the Rome of that day, where all munificence confined
itself to the direct largesses of a few leading necessaries of life,--a
great step was taken, and the best step, in this lending of money at a
low interest, towards a more refined and beneficial mode of charity.

In his public character, he was perhaps the most patriotic of Roman
emperors, and the purest from all taint of corrupt or indirect ends.
Peculation, embezzlement, or misapplication of the public funds, were
universally corrected: provincial oppressors were exposed and defeated:
the taxes and tributes were diminished; and the public expenses
were thrown as much as possible upon the public estates, and in some
instances upon his own private estates. So far, indeed, did Pius stretch
his sympathy with the poorer classes of his subjects, that on this
account chiefly he resided permanently in the capital--alleging in
excuse, partly that he thus stationed himself in the very centre of his
mighty empire, to which all couriers could come by the shortest radii,
but chiefly that he thus spared the provincialists those burthens which
must else have alighted upon them; "for," said he, "even the slenderest
retinue of a Roman emperor is burthensome to the whole line of its
progress." His tenderness and consideration, indeed, were extended to
all classes, and all relations, of his subjects; even to those who stood
in the shadow of his public displeasure as State delinquents, or as the
most atrocious criminals. To the children of great treasury defaulters,
he returned the confiscated estates of their fathers, deducting only
what might repair the public loss. And so resolutely did he refuse to
shed the blood of any in the senatorial order, to whom he conceived
himself more especially bound in paternal ties, that even a parricide,
whom the laws would not suffer to live, was simply exposed upon a desert

Little indeed did Pius want of being a perfect Christian, in heart and
in practice. Yet all this display of goodness and merciful indulgence,
nay, all his munificence, would have availed him little with the people
at large, had he neglected to furnish shows and exhibitions in the arena
of suitable magnificence. Luckily for his reputation, he exceeded the
general standard of imperial splendor not less as the patron of the
amphitheatre than in his more important functions. It is recorded of
him--that in one _missio_ he sent forward on the arena a hundred lions.
Nor was he less distinguished by the rarity of the wild animals which
he exhibited than by their number. There were elephants, there were
crocodiles, there were hippopotami at one time upon the stage: there was
also the rhinoceros, and the still rarer _crocuta_ or _corocotta_, with
a few _strepsikerotes_. Some of these were matched in duels, some in
general battles with tigers; in fact, there was no species of wild
animal throughout the deserts and sandy Zaarras of Africa, the infinite
_steppes_ of Asia, or the lawny recesses and dim forests of then
sylvan Europe, [Footnote: And not impossibly of America; for it must
be remembered that, when we speak of this quarter of the earth as yet
undiscovered, we mean--to ourselves of the western climates; since as
respects the eastern quarters of Asia, doubtless America was known
there familiarly enough; and the high bounties of imperial Rome on rare
animals, would sometimes perhaps propagate their influence even to those
regions.] no species known to natural history, (and some even of which
naturalists have lost sight,) which the Emperor Pius did not produce
to his Roman subjects on his ceremonious pomps. And in another point he
carried his splendors to a point which set the seal to his liberality.
In the phrase of modern auctioneers, he gave up the wild beasts to
slaughter "without reserve." It was the custom, in ordinary cases, so
far to consider the enormous cost of these far-fetched rarities as to
preserve for future occasions those which escaped the arrows of the
populace, or survived the bloody combats in which they were engaged.
Thus, out of the overflowings of one great exhibition, would be found
materials for another. But Pius would not allow of these reservations.
All were given up unreservedly to the savage purposes of the spectators;
land and sea were ransacked; the sanctuaries of the torrid zone were
violated; columns of the army were put in motion--and all for the
transient effect of crowning an extra hour with hecatombs of forest
blood, each separate minute of which had cost a king's ransom.

Yet these displays were alien to the nature of Pius; and, even through
the tyranny of custom, he had been so little changed, that to the last
he continued to turn aside, as often as the public ritual of his duty
allowed him, from these fierce spectacles to the gentler amusements of
fishing and hunting. His taste and his affections naturally carried him
to all domestic pleasures of a quiet nature. A walk in a shrubbery or
along a piazza, enlivened with the conversation of a friend or two,
pleased him better than all the court festivals; and among festivals,
or anniversary celebrations, he preferred those which, like the
harvest-home or feast of the vintagers, whilst they sanctioned a total
carelessness and dismissal of public anxieties, were at the same time
colored by the innocent gaiety which belongs to rural and to primitive
manners. In person this emperor was tall and dignified (_staturâ elevatâ
decorus;_) but latterly he stooped; to remedy which defect, that he
might discharge his public part with the more decorum, he wore stays.
[Footnote: In default of whalebone, one is curious to know of what they
were made:--thin tablets of the linden-tree, it appears, were the best
materials which the Augustus of that day could command.] Of his other
personal habits little is recorded, except that, early in the morning,
and just before receiving the compliments of his friends and dependents,
(_salutatores_,) or what in modern phrase would be called his _levee_,
he took a little plain bread, (_panem siccum comedit_,) that is, bread
without condiments or accompaniments of any kind, by way of breakfast.
In no meal has luxury advanced more upon the model of the ancients than
in this: the dinners (_cænæ_) of the Romans were even more luxurious,
and a thousand times more costly, than our own; but their breakfasts
were scandalously meagre; and, with many men, breakfast was no professed
meal at all. Galen tells us that a little bread, and at most a little
seasoning of oil, honey, or dried fruits, was the utmost breakfast which
men generally allowed themselves: some indeed drank wine after it, but
this was far from being a common practice. [Footnote: There is, however,
a good deal of delusion prevalent on such subjects. In some English
cavalry regiments, the custom is for the privates to take only one meal
a day, which of course is dinner; and by some curious experiments it
has appeared that such a mode of life is the healthiest. But at the same
time, we have ascertained that the quantity of porter or substantial ale
drunk in these regiments does virtually allow many meals, by comparison
with the washy tea breakfasts of most Englishmen.]

The Emperor Pius died in his seventieth year. The immediate occasion of
his death was--not breakfast nor _cæna_, but something of the kind. He
had received a present of Alpine cheese, and he ordered some for supper.
The trap for his life was baited with toasted cheese. There is no reason
to think that he ate immoderately; but that night he was seized with
indigestion. Delirium followed; during which it is singular that his
mind teemed with a class of imagery and of passions the most remote
(as it might have been thought) from the voluntary occupations of his
thoughts. He raved about the State, and about those kings with whom he
was displeased; nor were his thoughts one moment removed from the public
service. Yet he was the least ambitious of princes, and his reign was
emphatically said to be bloodless. Finding his fever increase, he
became sensible that he was dying; and he ordered the golden statue of
Prosperity, a household symbol of empire, to be transferred from his
own bedroom to that of his successor. Once again, however, for the last
time, he gave the word to the officer of the guard; and, soon after,
turning away his face to the wall against which his bed was placed,
he passed out of life in the very gentlest sleep, "_quasi dormiret,
spiritum reddidit_;" or, as a Greek author expresses it, _kat iso hypno
to malakotato_. He was one of those few Roman emperors whom posterity
truly honored with the title of _anaimatos_ (or bloodless;) _solusque
omnium prope principum prorsus sine civili sanguine et hostili vixit_.
In the whole tenor of his life and character he was thought to resemble
Numa. And Pausanias, after remarking on his title of _Eusebæs_ (or
Pius), upon the meaning and origin of which there are several different
hypotheses, closes with this memorable tribute to his paternal
qualities--_doxæ de emae, kai to onoma to te Kyros pheroito an tos
presbyteros, Pater anthropon kalemenos_: _but, in my opinion, he should
also bear the name of Cyrus the elder--being hailed as Father of the
Human Race_.

A thoughtful Roman would have been apt to exclaim, _This is too good
to last_, upon finding so admirable a ruler succeeded by one still more
admirable in the person of Marcus Aurelius. From the first dawn of his
infancy this prince indicated, by his grave deportment, the philosophic
character of his mind; and at eleven years of age he professed himself a
formal devotee of philosophy in its strictest form,--assuming the garb,
and submitting to its most ascetic ordinances. In particular, he slept
upon the ground, and in other respects he practised a style of living
the most simple and remote from the habits of rich men [or, in his
own words, _tho lithon chatha tæn diaitan, chai porro tæs pleousiachæs
hagogæs_]; though it is true that he himself ascribes this simplicity of
life to the influence of his mother, and not to the premature assumption
of the stoical character. He pushed his austerities indeed to excess;
for Dio mentions that in his boyish days he was reduced to great
weakness by exercises too severe, and a diet of too little nutriment. In
fact, his whole heart was set upon philosophic attainments, and perhaps
upon philosophic glory. All the great philosophers of his own time,
whether Stoic or Peripatetic, and amongst them Sextus of Cheronæa, a
nephew of Plutarch, were retained as his instructors. There was none
whom he did not enrich; and as many as were fitted by birth and manners
to fill important situations, he raised to the highest offices in the
State. Philosophy, however, did not so much absorb his affections, but
that he found time to cultivate the fine arts, (painting he both studied
and practised,) and such gymnastic exercises as he held consistent with
his public dignity. Wrestling, hunting, fowling, playing at cricket
(_pila_), he admired and patronized by personal participation. He tried
his powers even as a runner. But with these tasks, and entering so
critically, both as a connoisseur and as a practising amateur, into such
trials of skill, so little did he relish the very same spectacles, when
connected with the cruel exhibitions of the circus and amphitheatre,
that it was not without some friendly violence on the part of those who
could venture on such a liberty, nor even thus, perhaps, without the
necessities of his official station, that he would be persuaded to visit
either one or the other.[Footnote: So much improvement had Christianity
already accomplished in the feelings of men since the time of Augustus.
That prince, in whose reign the founder of this ennobling religion was
born, had delighted so much and indulged so freely in the spectacles of
the amphitheatre, that Mæcenas summoned him reproachfully to leave them,
saying, "Surge tandem, carnifex."

It is the remark of Capitoline, that "gladiatoria spectacula omnifariam
temperavit; temperavit etiam scenicas donationes;"--he controlled in
every possible way the gladiatorial spectacles; he controlled also the
rates of allowance to the stage performers. In these latter reforms,
which simply restrained the exorbitant salaries of a class dedicated to
the public pleasures, and unprofitable to the state, Marcus may have
had no farther view than that which is usually connected with sumptuary
laws. But in the restraints upon the gladiators, it is impossible to
believe that his highest purpose was not that of elevating human nature,
and preparing the way for still higher regulations. As little can it
be believed that this lofty conception, and the sense of a degradation
entailed upon human nature itself, in the spectacle of human beings
matched against each other like brute beasts, and pouring out their
blood upon the arena as a libation to the caprices of a mob, could
have been derived from any other source than the contagion of Christian
standards and Christian sentiments, then beginning to pervade and
ventilate the atmosphere of society in its higher and philosophic
regions. Christianity, without expressly affirming, every where
indirectly supposes and presumes the infinite value and dignity of man
as a creature, exclusively concerned in a vast and mysterious economy
of restoration to a state of moral beauty and power in some former age
mysteriously forfeited. Equally interested in its benefits, joint heirs
of its promises, all men, of every color, language, and rank, Gentile
or Jew, were here first represented as in one sense (and that the most
important) equal; in the eye of this religion, they were, by necessity
of logic, equal, as equal participators in the ruin and the restoration.
Here first, in any available sense, was communicated to the standard of
human nature a vast and sudden elevation; and reasonable enough it is to
suppose, that some obscure sense of this, some sympathy with the great
changes for man then beginning to operate, would first of all reach the
inquisitive students of philosophy, and chiefly those in high stations,
who cultivated an intercourse with all the men of original genius
throughout the civilized world. The Emperor Hadrian had already taken
a solitary step in the improvement of human nature; and not, we may
believe, without some sub-conscious influence received directly or
indirectly from Christianity. So again, with respect to Marcus, it is
hardly conceivable that he, a prince so indulgent and popular, could
have thwarted, and violently gainsaid, a primary impulse of the Roman
populace, without some adequate motive; and none _could_ be adequate
which was not built upon some new and exalted views of human nature,
with which these gladiatorial sacrifices were altogether at war. The
reforms which Marcus introduced into these "crudelissima spectacula,"
all having the common purpose of limiting their extent, were three.
First, he set bounds to the extreme cost of these exhibitions; and
this restriction of the cost covertly operated as a restriction of the
practice. Secondly,--and this ordinance took effect whenever he was
personally present, if not oftener,--he commanded, on great occasions,
that these displays should be bloodless. Dion Cassius notices this fact
in the following words:--"The Emperor Marcus was so far from taking
delight in spectacles of bloodshed, that even the gladiators in Rome
could not obtain his inspection of their contests, unless, like the
wrestlers, they contended without imminent risk; for he never allowed
them the use of sharpened weapons, but universally they fought before
him with weapons previously blunted." Thirdly, he repealed the old and
uniform regulation, which secured to the gladiators a perpetual immunity
from military service. This necessarily diminished their available
amount. Being now liable to serve their country usefully in the field
of battle, whilst the concurrent limitation of the expenses in this
direction prevented any proportionate increase of their numbers, they
were so much the less disposable in aid of the public luxury. His
fatherly care of all classes, and the universal benignity with which he
attempted to raise the abject estimate and condition of even the lowest
_Pariars_ in his vast empire, appears in another little anecdote,
relating to a class of men equally with the gladiators given up to the
service of luxury in a haughty and cruel populace. Attending one day at
an exhibition of rope-dancing, one of the performers (a boy) fell and
hurt himself; from which time the paternal emperor would never allow the
rope-dancers to perform without mattrasses or feather-beds spread
below, to mitigate the violence of their falls.] In this he meditated no
reflection upon his father by adoption, the Emperor Pius, (who also, for
aught we know, might secretly revolt from a species of amusement which,
as the prescriptive test of munificence in the popular estimate, it
was necessary to support;) on the contrary, he obeyed him with the
punctiliousness of a Roman obedience; he watched the very motions of his
countenance; and he waited so continually upon his pleasure, that for
three-and-twenty years which they lived together, he is recorded to
have slept out of his father's palace only for two nights. This rigor
of filial duty illustrates a feature of Roman life; for such was the
sanctity of law, that a father created by legal fiction was in all
respects treated with the same veneration and affection, as a father
who claimed upon the most unquestioned footing of natural right. Such,
however, is the universal baseness of courts, that even this scrupulous
and minute attention to his duties, did not protect Marcus from the
injurious insinuations of whisperers. There were not wanting persons who
endeavored to turn to account the general circumstances in the situation
of the Cæsar, which pointed him out to the jealousy of the emperor. But
these being no more than what adhere necessarily to the case of every
heir _as_ such, and meeting fortunately with no more proneness to
suspicion in the temper of the Augustus than they did with countenance
in the conduct of the Cæsar, made so little impression, that at length
these malicious efforts died away, from mere defect of encouragement.

The most interesting political crisis in the reign of Marcus was the war
in Germany with the Marcomanni, concurrently with pestilence in Rome.
The agitation of the public mind was intense; and prophets arose, as
since under corresponding circumstances in Christian countries, who
announced the approaching dissolution of the world. The purse of Marcus
was open, as usual, to the distresses of his subjects. But it was
chiefly for the expense of funerals that his aid was claimed. In this
way he alleviated the domestic calamities of his capital, or expressed
his sympathy with the sufferers, where alleviation was beyond his power;
whilst, by the energy of his movements and his personal presence on the
Danube, he soon dissipated those anxieties of Rome which pointed in a
foreign direction. The war, however, had been a dreadful one, and had
excited such just fears in the most experienced heads of the State,
that, happening in its outbreak to coincide with a Parthian war, it
was skilfully protracted until the entire thunders of Rome, and the
undivided energies of her supreme captains, could be concentrated upon
this single point. Both [Footnote: Marcus had been associated, as Cæsar
and as emperor, with the son of the late beautiful Verus, who is usually
mentioned by the same name.] emperors left Rome, and crossed the Alps;
the war was thrown back upon its native seats--Austria and the modern
Hungary: great battles were fought and won; and peace, with consequent
relief and restoration to liberty, was reconquered for many friendly
nations, who had suffered under the ravages of the Marcomanni, the
Sarmatians, the Quadi, and the Vandals; whilst some of the hostile
people were nearly obliterated from the map, and their names blotted out
from the memory of men.

Since the days of Gaul as an independent power, no war had so much
alarmed the people of Rome; and their fear was justified by the
difficulties and prodigious efforts which accompanied its suppression.
The public treasury was exhausted; loans were an engine of fiscal
policy, not then understood or perhaps practicable; and great distress
was at hand for the State. In these circumstances, Marcus adopted a wise
(though it was then esteemed a violent or desperate) remedy. Time and
excessive luxury had accumulated in the imperial palaces and villas
vast repositories of apparel, furniture, jewels, pictures, and household
utensils, valuable alike for the materials and the workmanship. Many of
these articles were consecrated, by color or otherwise, to the use of
the _sacred_ household; and to have been found in possession of them, or
with the materials for making them, would have entailed the penalties of
treason. All these stores were now brought out to open day, and put
up to public sale by auction, free license being first granted to the
bidders, whoever they might be, to use, or otherwise to exercise the
fullest rights of property upon all they bought. The auction lasted for
two months. Every man was guaranteed in the peaceable ownership of his
purchases. And afterwards, when the public distress had passed over,
a still further indulgence was extended to the purchasers. Notice was
given--that all who were dissatisfied with their purchases, or who for
other means might wish to recover their cost, would receive back the
purchase-money, upon returning the articles. Dinner-services of gold and
crystal, murrhine vases, and even his wife's wardrobe of silken robes
interwoven with gold, all these, and countless other articles were
accordingly returned, and the full auction prices paid back; or were
_not_ returned, and no displeasure shown to those who publicly displayed
them as their own. Having gone so far, overruled by the necessities of
the public service, in breaking down those legal barriers by which
a peculiar dress, furniture, equipage, &c., were appropriated to the
imperial house, as distinguished from the very highest of the noble
houses, Marcus had a sufficient pretext for extending indefinitely
the effect of the dispensation then granted. Articles purchased at the
auction bore no characteristic marks to distinguish them from others of
the same form and texture: so that a license to use any one article
of the _sacred_ pattern, became necessarily a general license for all
others which resembled them. And thus, without abrogating the prejudices
which protected the imperial precedency, a body of sumptuary laws--the
most ruinous to the progress of manufacturing skill, [Footnote: Because
the most effectual extinguishers of all ambition applied in that
direction; since the very excellence of any particular fabric was
the surest pledge of its virtual suppression by means of its legal
restriction (which followed inevitably) to the use of the imperial
house.] which has ever been devised--were silently suspended. One or two
aspiring families might be offended by these innovations, which meantime
gave the pleasures of enjoyment to thousands, and of hope to millions.

But these, though very noticeable relaxations of the existing
prerogative, were, as respected the temper which dictated them, no
more than everyday manifestations of the emperor's perpetual benignity.
Fortunately for Marcus, the indestructible privilege of the _divina
domus_ exalted it so unapproachably beyond all competition, that no
possible remissions of aulic rigor could ever be misinterpreted; fear
there could be none, lest such paternal indulgences should lose their
effect and acceptation as pure condescensions. They could neither
injure their author, who was otherwise charmed and consecrated, from
disrespect; nor could they suffer injury themselves by misconstruction,
or seem other than sincere, coming from a prince whose entire life
was one long series of acts expressing the same affable spirit. Such,
indeed, was the effect of this uninterrupted benevolence in the emperor,
that at length all men, according to their several ages, hailed him as
their father, son, or brother. And when he died, in the sixty-first
year of his life (the 18th of his reign), he was lamented with a
corresponding peculiarity in the public ceremonial, such, for instance,
as the studied interfusion of the senatorial body with the populace,
expressive of the levelling power of a true and comprehensive grief; a
peculiarity for which no precedent was found, and which never afterwards
became a precedent for similar honors to the best of his successors.

But malice has the divine privilege of ubiquity; and therefore it was
that even this great model of private and public virtue did not escape
the foulest libels: he was twice accused of murder; once on the person
of a gladiator, with whom the empress is said to have fallen in love;
and again, upon his associate in the empire, who died in reality of an
apoplectic seizure, on his return from the German campaign. Neither
of these atrocious fictions ever gained the least hold of the public
attention, so entirely were they put down by the _prima facie_ evidence
of facts, and of the emperor's notorious character. In fact his faults,
if he had any in his public life, were entirely those of too much
indulgence. In a few cases of enormous guilt, it is recorded that
he showed himself inexorable. But, generally speaking, he was far
otherwise; and, in particular, he carried his indulgence to his wife's
vices to an excess which drew upon him the satirical notice of the

The gladiators, and still more the sailors of that age, were constantly
to be seen playing naked, and Faustina was shameless enough to take her
station in places which gave her the advantages of a leisurely review;
and she actually selected favorites from both classes on the ground of
a personal inspection. With others of greater rank she is said even
to have been surprised by her husband; in particular with one called
Tertullus, at dinner. [Footnote: Upon which some _mimographus_ built an
occasional notice of the scandal then floating on the public breath
in the following terms: One of the actors having asked "_Who was the
adulterous paramour?_" receives for answer, _Tullus_. Who? he asks
again; and again for three times running he is answered, _Tullus_. But
asking a fourth time, the rejoinder is, Jam dixi _ter Tullus_.] But to
all remonstrances on this subject, Marcus is reported to have replied,
"_Si uxorem dimittimus, reddamus et dotem;_" meaning that, having
received his right of succession to the empire simply by his adoption
into the family of Pius, his wife's father, gratitude and filial duty
obliged him to view any dishonors emanating from his wife's conduct as
joint legacies with the splendors inherited from their common father; in
short, that he was not at liberty to separate the rose from its
thorns. However, the facts are not sufficiently known to warrant us in
criticising very severely his behavior on so trying an occasion.

It would be too much for human frailty, that absolutely no stain should
remain upon his memory. Possibly the best use which can be made of such
a fact is, in the way of consolation to any unhappy man, whom his wife
may too liberally have endowed with honors of this kind, by reminding
him that he shares this distinction with the great philosophic emperor.
The reflection upon this story by one of his biographers is this--"Such
is the force of daily life in a good ruler, so great the power of his
sanctity, gentleness, and piety, that no breath of slander or invidious
suggestion from an acquaintance can avail to sully his memory. In short,
to Antonine, immutable as the heavens in the tenor of his own life,
and in the manifestations of his own moral temper, and who was not by
possibility liable to any impulse or 'shadow of turning' from another
man's suggestion, it was not eventually an injury that he was dishonored
by some of his connections; on him, invulnerable in his own character,
neither a harlot for his wife, nor a gladiator for his son, could
inflict a wound. Then as now, oh sacred lord Diocletian, he was reputed
a god; not as others are reputed, but specially and in a peculiar
sense, and with a privilege to such worship from all men as you yourself
addressed to him--who often breathe a wish to Heaven, that you were or
could be such in life and merciful disposition as was Marcus Aurelius."

What this encomiast says in a rhetorical tone was literally true. Marcus
was raised to divine honors, or canonized [Footnote: In reality, if by
_divus_ and _divine honors_ we understand a saint or spiritualized
being having a right of intercession with the Supreme Deity, and by his
temple, &c., if we understand a shrine attended by a priest to direct
the prayers of his devotees, there is no such wide chasm between this
pagan superstition and the adoration of saints in the Romish church, as
at first sight appears. The fault is purely in the names: _divus_ and
_templum_ are words too undistinguishing and generic.] (as in Christian
phrase we might express it.) That was a matter of course; and,
considering with whom he shared such honors, they are of little
account in expressing the grief and veneration which followed him. A
circumstance more characteristic, in the record of those observances
which attested the public feeling, is this--that he who at that time had
no bust, picture, or statue of Marcus in his house, was looked upon as a
profane and irreligious man. Finally, to do him honor not by testimonies
of men's opinions in his favor, but by facts of his own life and
conduct, one memorable trophy there is amongst the moral distinctions
of the philosophic Cæsar, utterly unnoticed hitherto by historians, but
which will hereafter obtain a conspicuous place in any perfect record of
the steps by which civilization has advanced, and human nature has been
exalted. It is this: Marcus Aurelius was the first great military
leader (and his civil office as supreme interpreter and creator of
law consecrated his example) who allowed rights indefeasible--rights
uncancelled by his misfortune in the field, to the prisoner of war.
Others had been merciful and variously indulgent, upon their own
discretion, and upon a random impulse to some, or possibly to all of
their prisoners; but this was either in submission to the usage of that
particular war, or to special self-interest, or at most to individual
good feeling. None had allowed a prisoner to challenge any forbearance
as of right. But Marcus Aurelius first resolutely maintained that
certain indestructible rights adhered to every soldier, simply as a man,
which rights, capture by the sword, or any other accident of war, could
do nothing to shake or to diminish. We have noticed other instances in
which Marcus Aurelius labored, at the risk of his popularity, to elevate
the condition of human nature. But those, though equally expressing the
goodness and loftiness of his nature, were by accident directed to a
perishable institution, which time has swept away, and along with
it therefore his reformations. Here, however, is an immortal act of
goodness built upon an immortal basis; for so long as armies congregate,
and the sword is the arbiter of international quarrels, so long it will
deserve to be had in remembrance, that the first man who set limits to
the empire of wrong, and first translated within the jurisdiction
of man's moral nature that state of war which had heretofore been
consigned, by principle no less than by practice, to anarchy, animal
violence, and brute force, was also the first philosopher who sat upon a

In this, and in his universal spirit of forgiveness, we cannot but
acknowledge a Christian by anticipation; nor can we hesitate to believe,
that through one or other of his many philosophic friends, [Footnote:
Not long after this, Alexander Severus meditated a temple to Christ;
upon which design Lampridius observes,--_Quod et Hadrianus cogitâsse
fertur;_ and, as Lampridius was himself a pagan, we believe him to have
been right in his report, in spite of all which has been written by
Casaubon and others, who maintain that these imperfect temples of
Hadrian were left void of all images or idols,--not in respect to
the Christian practice, but because he designed them eventually to be
dedicated to himself. However, be this as it may, thus much appears on
the face of the story,--that Christ and Christianity had by that time
begun to challenge the imperial attention; and of this there is an
indirect indication, as it has been interpreted, even in the memoir
of Marcus himself. The passage is this: "Fama fuit sane quod sub
philosophorum specie quidam rempublicam vexarent et privates." The
_philosophi_, here mentioned by Capitoline, are by some supposed to be
the Christians; and for many reasons we believe it; and we understand
the molestations of the public services and of private individuals,
here charged upon them, as a very natural reference to the Christian
doctrines falsely understood. There is, by the way, a fine remark upon
Christianity, made by an infidel philosopher of Germany, which suggests
a remarkable feature in the merits of Marcus Aurelius. There were, as
this German philosopher used to observe, two schemes of thinking amongst
the ancients, which severally fulfilled the two functions of a sound
philosophy, as respected the moral nature of man. One of these
schemes presented us with a just ideal of moral excellence, a standard
sufficiently exalted: this was the Stoic philosophy; and thus far its
pretensions were unexceptionable and perfect. But unfortunately, whilst
contemplating this pure ideal of man as he ought to be, the Stoic
totally forgot the frail nature of man as he is; and by refusing all
compromises and all condescensions to human infirmity, this philosophy
of the Porch presented to us a brilliant prize and object for our
efforts, but placed on an inaccessible height.

On the other hand, there was a very different philosophy at the very
antagonist pole,--not blinding itself by abstractions too elevated,
submitting to what it finds, bending to the absolute facts and realities
of man's nature, and affably adapting itself to human imperfections.
This was the philosophy of Epicurus; and undoubtedly, as a beginning,
and for the elementary purpose of conciliating the affections of the
pupil, it was well devised; but here the misfortune was, that the ideal,
or _maximum perfectionis_, attainable by human nature, was pitched so
low, that the humility of its condescensions and the excellence of its
means were all to no purpose, as leading to nothing further. One mode
presented a splendid end, but insulated, and with no means fitted to
a human aspirant for communicating with its splendors; the other, an
excellent road, but leading to no worthy or proportionate end. Yet
these, as regarded morals, were the best and ultimate achievements of
the pagan world. Now Christianity, said he, is the synthesis of whatever
is separately excellent in either. It will abate as little as the
haughtiest Stoicism of the ideal which it contemplates as the first
postulate of true morality; the absolute holiness and purity which it
demands are as much raised above the poor performances of actual man,
as the absolute wisdom and impeccability of the Stoic. Yet, unlike the
Stoic scheme, Christianity is aware of the necessity, and provides for
it, that the means of appropriating this ideal perfection should be
such as are consistent with the nature of a most erring and imperfect
creature. Its motion is _towards_ the divine, but _by_ and _through_ the
human. In fact, it offers the Stoic humanized in his scheme of means,
and the Epicurean exalted in his final objects. Nor is it possible to
conceive a practicable scheme of morals which should not rest upon such
a synthesis of the two elements as the Christian scheme presents; nor
any other mode of fulfilling that demand than, such a one as is there
first brought forward, viz., a double or Janus nature, which stands in
an equivocal relation,--to the divine nature by his actual perfections,
to the human nature by his participation in the same animal frailties
and capacities of fleshly temptation. No other vinculum could bind the
two postulates together, of an absolute perfection in the end proposed,
and yet of utter imperfection in the means for attaining it.

Such was the outline of this famous tribute by an unbelieving
philosopher to the merits of Christianity as a scheme of moral
discipline. Now, it must be remembered that Marcus Aurelius was by
profession a Stoic; and that generally, as a theoretical philosopher,
but still more as a Stoic philosopher, he might be supposed incapable of
descending from these airy altitudes of speculation to the true needs,
infirmities, and capacities of human nature. Yet strange it is, that he,
of all the good emperors, was the most thoroughly human and practical.
In evidence of which, one body of records is amply sufficient, which
is, the very extensive and wise reforms which he, beyond all the Cæsars,
executed in the existing laws. To all the exigencies of the times, and
to all the new necessities developed by the progress of society, he
adjusted the old laws, or supplied new ones. The same praise, therefore,
belongs to him, which the German philosopher conceded to Christianity,
of reconciling the austerest ideal with the practical; and hence another
argument for presuming him half baptized into the new faith.] whose
attention Christianity was by that time powerful to attract, some reflex
images of Christian doctrines--some half-conscious perception of its
perfect beauty--had flashed upon his mind. And when we view him from
this distant age, as heading that shining array, the Howards and the
Wilberforces, who have since then in a practical sense hearkened to
the sighs of "all prisoners and captives"--we are ready to suppose
him addressed by the great Founder of Christianity, in the words of
Scripture, "_Verily, I say unto thee, Thou art not far from the kingdom
of heaven._"

As a supplement to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, we ought to notice the
rise of one great rebel, the sole civil disturber of his time, in
Syria. This was Avidius Cassius, whose descent from Cassius (the noted
conspirator against the great Dictator, Julius) seems to have suggested
to him a wandering idea, and at length a formal purpose of restoring
the ancient republic. Avidius was the commander-in-chief of the Oriental
army, whose head-quarters were then fixed at Antioch. His native
disposition, which inclined him to cruelty, and his political views,
made him, from his first entrance upon office, a severe disciplinarian.
The well known enormities of the neighboring Daphne gave him ample
opportunities for the exercise of his harsh propensities in reforming
the dissolute soldiery. He amputated heads, arms, feet, and hams: he
turned out his mutilated victims, as walking spectacles of warning; he
burned them; he smoked them to death; and, in one instance, he crucified
a detachment of his army, together with their centurions, for having,
unauthorized, gained a splendid victory, and captured a large booty
on the Danube. Upon this the soldiers mutinied against him, in mere
indignation at his tyranny. However, he prosecuted his purpose, and
prevailed, by his bold contempt of the danger which menaced him. From
the abuses in the army, he proceeded to attack the abuses of the civil
administration. But as these were protected by the example of the great
proconsular lieutenants and provincial governors, policy obliged him
to confine himself to verbal expressions of anger; until at length,
sensible that this impotent railing did but expose him to contempt,
he resolved to arm himself with the powers of radical reform, by open
rebellion. His ultimate purpose was the restoration of the ancient
republic, or, (as he himself expresses it in an interesting letter,
which yet survives,) "_ut in antiquum statum publica forma reddatur_;"
_i.e._ that the constitution should be restored to its original
condition. And this must be effected by military violence and the aid of
the executioner--or, in his own words, _multis gladiis, multis elogiis_,
(by innumerable sabres, by innumerable records of condemnation.) Against
this man Marcus was warned by his imperial colleague Lucius Verus, in
a very remarkable letter. After expressing his suspicions of him
generally, the writer goes on to say--"I would you had him closely
watched. For he is a general disliker of us and of our doings; he is
gathering together an enormous treasure, and he makes an open jest of
our literary pursuits. You, for instance, he calls a philosophizing old
woman, and me a dissolute buffoon and scamp. Consider what you would
have done. For my part, I bear the fellow no ill will; but again, I say,
take care that he does not do a mischief to yourself, or your children."

The answer of Marcus is noble and characteristic: "I have read your
letter, and I will confess to you I think it more scrupulously timid
than becomes an emperor, and timid in a way unsuited to the spirit of
our times. Consider this--if the empire is destined to Cassius by the
decrees of Providence, in that case it will not be in our power to
put him to death, however much we may desire to do so. You know your
great-grandfather's saying,--No prince ever killed his own heir--no man,
that is, ever yet prevailed against one whom Providence had marked out
as his successor. On the other hand, if Providence opposes him, then,
without any cruelty on our part, he will spontaneously fall into some
snare spread for him by destiny. Besides, we cannot treat a man as under
impeachment whom nobody impeaches, and whom, by your own confession,
the soldiers love. Then again, in cases of high treason, even those
criminals who are convicted upon the clearest evidence, yet, as
friendless and deserted persons contending against the powerful, and
matched against those who are armed with the whole authority of the
State, seem to suffer some wrong. You remember what your grandfather
said--Wretched, indeed, is the fate of princes, who then first obtain
credit in any charges of conspiracy which they allege--when they happen
to seal the validity of their charges against the plotters, by falling
martyrs to the plot. Domitian it was, in fact, who first uttered this
truth; but I choose rather to place it under the authority of Hadrian,
because the sayings of tyrants, even when they are true and happy, carry
less weight with them than naturally they ought. For Cassius, then, let
him keep his present temper and inclinations; and the more so--being (as
he is) a good General--austere in his discipline, brave, and one whom
the State cannot afford to lose. For as to what you insinuate--that
I ought to provide for my children's interests, by putting this
man judicially out of the way, very frankly I say to you--Perish my
children, if Avidius shall deserve more attachment than they, and if it
shall prove salutary to the State that Cassius should live rather than
the children of Marcus."

This letter affords a singular illustration of fatalism, such certainly
as we might expect in a Stoic, but carried even to a Turkish excess; and
not theoretically professed only, but practically acted upon in a case
of capital hazard. _That no prince ever killed his own successor_, i.e.,
that it was vain for a prince to put conspirators to death, because, by
the very possibility of doing so, a demonstration is obtained that such
conspirators had never been destined to prosper, is as condensed and
striking an expression of fatalism as ever has been devised. The rest
of the letter is truly noble, and breathes the very soul of careless
magnanimity reposing upon conscious innocence. Meantime, Cassius
increased in power and influence: his army had become a most formidable
engine of his ambition through its restored discipline; and his own
authority was sevenfold greater, because he had himself created that
discipline in the face of unequalled temptations hourly renewed and
rooted in the very centre of his head-quarters. "Daphne, by Orontes," a
suburb of Antioch, was infamous for its seductions; and _Daphnic luxury_
had become proverbial for expressing an excess of voluptuousness,
such as other places could not rival by mere defect of means, and
preparations elaborate enough to sustain it in all its varieties of
mode, or to conceal it from public notice. In the very purlieus of
this great nest, or sty of sensuality, within sight and touch of its
pollutions, did he keep his army fiercely reined up, daring and defying
them, as it were, to taste of the banquet whose very odor they inhaled.

Thus provided with the means, and improved instruments, for executing
his purposes, he broke out into open rebellion; and, though hostile to
the _principatus_, or personal supremacy of one man, he did not feel
his republican purism at all wounded by the style and title of
_Imperator_,--that being a military term, and a mere titular honor,
which had co-existed with the severest forms of republicanism.
_Imperator_, then, he was saluted and proclaimed; and doubtless the
writer of the warning letter from Syria would now declare that the
sequel had justified the fears which Marcus had thought so unbecoming to
a Roman emperor. But again Marcus would have said, "Let us wait for the
sequel of the sequel," and that would have justified him. It is often
found by experience that men, who have learned to reverence a person
in authority chiefly by his offices of correction applied to their own
aberrations,--who have known and feared him, in short, in his character
of reformer,--will be more than usually inclined to desert him on his
first movement in the direction of wrong. Their obedience being founded
on fear, and fear being never wholly disconnected from hatred, they
naturally seize with eagerness upon the first lawful pretext for
disobedience; the luxury of revenge is, in such a case, too potent,--a
meritorious disobedience too novel a temptation,--to have a chance of
being rejected. Never, indeed, does erring human nature look more
abject than in the person of a severe exactor of duty, who has immolated
thousands to the wrath of offended law, suddenly himself becoming a
capital offender, a glozing tempter in search of accomplices, and in
that character at once standing before the meanest of his own dependents
as a self-deposed officer, liable to any man's arrest, and, _ipso
facto_, a suppliant for his own mercy. The stern and haughty Cassius,
who had so often tightened the cords of discipline until they threatened
to snap asunder, now found, experimentally, the bitterness of these
obvious truths. The trembling sentinel now looked insolently in his
face; the cowering legionary, with whom "to hear was to obey," now mused
or even bandied words upon his orders; the great lieutenants of his
office, who stood next to his own person in authority, were preparing
for revolt, open or secret, as circumstances should prescribe; not the
accuser only, but the very avenger, was upon his steps; Nemesis, that
Nemesis who once so closely adhered to the name and fortunes of the
lawful Cæsar, turning against every one of his assassins the edge of his
own assassinating sword, was already at his heels; and in the midst of a
sudden prosperity, and its accompanying shouts of gratulation, he heard
the sullen knells of approaching death. Antioch, it was true, the
great Roman capital of the Orient, bore him, for certain motives of
self-interest, peculiar good-will. But there was no city of the world in
which the Roman Cæsar did not reckon many liege-men and partisans.
And the very hands, which dressed his altars and crowned his Prætorian
pavilion, might not improbably in that same hour put an edge upon
the sabre which was to avenge the injuries of the too indulgent and
long-suffering Antoninus. Meantime, to give a color of patriotism to
his treason, Cassius alleged public motives; in a letter, which he wrote
after assuming the purple, he says: "Wretched empire, miserable state,
which endures these hungry blood-suckers battening on her vitals!--A
worthy man, doubtless, is Marcus; who, in his eagerness to be reputed
clement, suffers those to live whose conduct he himself abhors. Where is
that L. Cassius, whose name I vainly inherit? Where is that Marcus,--not
Aurelius, mark you, but Cato Censorius? Where the good old discipline
of ancestral times, long since indeed disused, but now not so much
as looked after in our aspirations? Marcus Antoninus is a scholar; he
enacts the philosopher; and he tries conclusions upon the four elements,
and upon the nature of the soul; and he discourses learnedly upon
the _Honestum_; and concerning the _Summum Bonum_ he is unanswerable.
Meanwhile, is he learned in the interests of the State? Can he argue
a point upon the public economy? You see what a host of sabres is
required, what a host of impeachments, sentences, executions, before the
commonwealth can reassume its ancient integrity! What! shall I esteem
as proconsuls, as governors, those who for that end only deem themselves
invested with lieutenancies or great senatorial appointments, that they
may gorge themselves with the provincial luxuries and wealth? No doubt
you heard in what way our friend the philosopher gave the place
of prætorian prefect to one who but three days before was a
bankrupt,--insolvent, by G--, and a beggar. Be not you content: that
same gentleman is now as rich as a prefect should be; and has been so,
I tell you, any time these three days. And how, I pray you, how--how, my
good sir? How but out of the bowels of the provinces, and the marrow of
their bones? But no matter, let them be rich; let them be blood-suckers;
so much, God willing, shall they regorge into the treasury of the
empire. Let but Heaven smile upon our party, and the Cassiani shall
return to the republic its old impersonal supremacy."

But Heaven did _not_ smile; nor did man. Rome heard with bitter
indignation of this old traitor's ingratitude, and his false mask of
republican civism. Excepting Marcus Aurelius himself, not one man
but thirsted for revenge. And that was soon obtained. He and all his
supporters, one after the other, rapidly fell (as Marcus had predicted)
into snares laid by the officers who continued true to their allegiance.
Except the family and household of Cassius, there remained in a short
time none for the vengeance of the senate, or for the mercy of the
emperor. In _them_ centred the last arrears of hope and fear, of
chastisement or pardon, depending upon this memorable revolt. And about
the disposal of their persons arose the final question to which the
case gave birth. The letters yet remain in which the several parties
interested gave utterance to the passions which possessed them.
Faustina, the Empress, urged her husband with feminine violence to adopt
against his prisoners comprehensive acts of vengeance. "Noli parcere
hominibus," says she, "qui tibi non pepercerunt; et nec mihi nec filiis
nostris parcerent, si vicissent." And elsewhere she irritates his wrath
against the army as accomplices for the time, and as a body of men
"qui, nisi opprimuntur, opprimunt." We may be sure of the result. After
commending her zeal for her own family, he says, "Ego vero et ejus
liberis parcam, et genero, et uxori; et ad senatum scribam ne aut
proscriptio gravior sit, aut poena crudelior;" adding that, had his
counsels prevailed, not even Cassius himself should have perished. As
to his relatives, "Why," he asks, "should I speak of pardon to them,
who indeed have done no wrong, and are blameless even in purpose?"
Accordingly, his letter of intercession to the senate protests, that,
so far from asking for further victims to the crime of Avidius Cassius,
would to God he could call back from the dead many of those who had
fallen! With immense applause, and with turbulent acclamations, the
senate granted all his requests "in consideration of his philosophy,
of his long-suffering, of his learning and accomplishments, of his
nobility, of his innocence." And until a monster arose who delighted in
the blood of the guiltless, it is recorded that the posterity of Avidius
Cassius lived in security, and were admitted to honors and public
distinctions by favor of him, whose life and empire that memorable
traitor had sought to undermine under the favor of his guileless
master's too confiding magnanimity.


The Roman empire, and the Roman emperors, it might naturally be supposed
by one who had not as yet traversed that tremendous chapter in the
history of man, would be likely to present a separate and almost equal
interest. The empire, in the first place, as the most magnificent
monument of human power which our planet has beheld, must for that
single reason, even though its records were otherwise of little
interest, fix upon itself the very keenest gaze from all succeeding
ages to the end of time. To trace the fortunes and revolutions of that
unrivalled monarchy over which the Roman eagle brooded, to follow the
dilapidations of that aêrial arch, which silently and steadily through
seven centuries ascended under the colossal architecture of the children
of Romulus, to watch the unweaving of the golden arras, and step by
step to see paralysis stealing over the once perfect cohesion of the
republican creations,--cannot but insure a severe, though
melancholy delight. On its own separate account, the decline of this
throne-shattering power must and will engage the foremost place amongst
all historical reviews. The "dislimning" and unmoulding of some mighty
pageantry in the heavens has its own appropriate grandeurs, no less
than the gathering of its cloudy pomps. The going down of the sun
is contemplated with no less awe than his rising. Nor is any thing
portentous in its growth, which is not also portentous in the steps and
"moments" of its decay. Hence, in the second place, we might presume a
commensurate interest in the characters and fortunes of the successive
emperors. If the empire challenged our first survey, the next would seem
due to the Cæsars who guided its course; to the great ones who retarded,
and to the bad ones who precipitated, its ruin.

Such might be the natural expectation of an inexperienced reader. But
it is _not_ so. The Cæsars, throughout their long line, are not
interesting, neither personally in themselves, nor derivatively from the
tragic events to which their history is attached. Their whole interest
lies in their situation--in the unapproachable altitude of their
thrones. But, considered with a reference to their human qualities,
scarcely one in the whole series can be viewed with a human interest
apart from the circumstances of his position. "Pass like shadows, so
depart!" The reason for this defect of all personal variety of interest
in these enormous potentates, must be sought in the constitution of
their power and the very necessities of their office. Even the greatest
among them, those who by way of distinction were called _the Great_,
as Constantine and Theodosius, were not great, for they were not
magnanimous; nor could they be so under _their_ tenure of power, which
made it a duty to be suspicious, and, by fastening upon all varieties of
original temper one dire necessity of bloodshed, extinguished under
this monotonous cloud of cruel jealousy and everlasting panic every
characteristic feature of genial human nature, that would else have
emerged through so long a train of princes. There is a remarkable story
told of Agrippina, that, upon some occasion, when a wizard announced
to her, as truths which he had read in the heavens, the two fatal
necessities impending over her son,--one that he should ascend to
empire, the other that he should murder herself, she replied in
these stern and memorable words--_Occidat, dum imperet_. Upon which a
continental writer comments thus: "Never before or since have three such
words issued from the lips of woman; and in truth, one knows not which
most to abominate or to admire--the aspiring princess, or the loving
mother. Meantime, in these few words lies naked to the day, in its whole
hideous deformity, the very essence of Romanism and the imperatorial
power, and one might here consider the mother of Nero as the
impersonation of that monstrous condition."

This is true: _Occidat dum imperet_, was the watchword and very
cognizance of the Roman imperator. But almost equally it was his
watchword--_Occidatur dum imperet_. Doing or suffering, the Cæsars were
almost equally involved in bloodshed; very few that were not murderers,
and nearly all were themselves murdered.

The empire, then, must be regarded as the primary object of our
interest; and it is in this way only that any secondary interest arises
for the emperors. Now, with respect to the empire, the first question
which presents itself is,--Whence, that is, from what causes and from
what era, we are to date its decline? Gibbon, as we all know, dates it
from the reign of Commodus; but certainly upon no sufficient, or even
plausible grounds. Our own opinion we shall state boldly: the empire
itself, from the very era of its establishment, was one long decline of
the Roman power. A vast monarchy had been created and consolidated by
the all-conquering instincts of a republic--cradled and nursed in wars,
and essentially warlike by means of all its institutions [Footnote:
Amongst these institutions, none appear to us so remarkable, or fitted
to accomplish so prodigious a circle of purposes belonging to the
highest state policy, as the Roman method of colonization. Colonies
were, in effect, the great engine of Roman conquest; and the following
are among a few of the great ends to which they were applied. First
of all, how came it that the early armies of Rome served, and served
cheerfully, without pay? Simply because all who were victorious knew
that they would receive their arrears in the fullest and amplest
form upon their final discharge, viz. in the shape of a colonial
estate--large enough to rear a family in comfort, and seated in the
midst of similar allotments, distributed to their old comrades in arms.
These lands were already, perhaps, in high cultivation, being often
taken from conquered tribes; but, if not, the new occupants could rely
for aid of every sort, for social intercourse, and for all the offices
of good neighborhood upon the surrounding proprietors--who were sure to
be persons in the same circumstances as themselves, and draughted from
the same legion. For be it remembered, that in the primitive ages
of Rome, concerning which it is that we are now speaking, entire
legions--privates and officers--were transferred in one body to the new
colony. "Antiquitus," says the learned Goesius, "deducebantur integral
legiones, quibus parta victoria." Neither was there much waiting for
this honorary gift. In later ages, it is true, when such resources were
less plentiful, and when regular pay was given to the soldiery, it
was the veteran only who obtained this splendid provision; but in the
earlier times, a single fortunate campaign not seldom dismissed the
young recruit to a life of ease and honor. "Multis legionibus," says
Hyginus, "contigit bellum feliciter transigere, et ad laboriosam
agriculturæ requiem _primo tyrocinii gradu_ pervenire. Nam cum signis
et aquilâ et primis ordinibus et tribunis deducebantur." Tacitus also
notices this organization of the early colonies, and adds the reason
of it, and its happy effect, when contrasting it with the vicious
arrangements of the colonizing system in his own days. "Olim," says he,
"universæ legiones deducebantur cum tribunis et centurionibus, et
sui cujusque ordinis militibus, _ut consensu et charitate rempublicam
efficerent_." _Secondly_, not only were the troops in this way paid at
a time when the public purse was unequal to the expenditure of war--but
this pay, being contingent on the successful issue of the war, added
the strength of self-interest to that of patriotism in stimulating the
soldier to extraordinary efforts. Thirdly, not only did the soldier in
this way reap his pay, but also he reaped a reward, (and that besides a
trophy and perpetual monument of his public services,) so munificent as
to constitute a permanent provision for a family; and accordingly he
was now encouraged, nay, enjoined, to marry. For here was an hereditary
landed estate equal to the liberal maintenance of a family. And thus did
a simple people, obeying its instinct of conquest, not only discover, in
its earliest days, the subtle principle of Machiavel--_Let war support
war_; but (which is far more than Machiavel's view) they made each
present war support many future wars--by making it support a new offset
from the population, bound to the mother city by indissoluble ties of
privilege and civic duties; and in many other ways they made every
war, by and through the colonizing system to which it gave occasion,
serviceable to future aggrandizement. War, managed in this way, and
with these results, became to Rome what commerce or rural industry is
to other countries, viz. the only hopeful and general way for making
a fortune. _Fourthly_, by means of colonies it was that Rome delivered
herself from her surplus population. Prosperous and well-governed, the
Roman citizens of each generation outnumbered those of the generation
preceding. But the colonies provided outlets for these continual
accessions of people, and absorbed them faster than they could arise.
[Footnote: And in this way we must explain the fact--that, in the many
successive numerations of the people continually noticed by Livy and
others, we do not find that sort of multiplication which we might have
looked for in a state so ably governed. The truth is, that the continual
surpluses had been carried off by the colonizing drain, before they
could become noticeable or troublesome.] And thus the great original
sin of modern states, that heel of Achilles in which they are all
vulnerable, and which (generally speaking) becomes more oppressive to
the public prosperity as that prosperity happens to be greater (for in
poor states and under despotic governments, this evil does not exist),
that flagrant infirmity of our own country, for which no statesman
has devised any commensurate remedy, was to ancient Rome a perpetual
foundation and well-head of public strength and enlarged resources.
With us of modern times, when population greatly outruns the demand for
labor, whether it be under the stimulus of upright government, and just
laws, justly administered, in combination with the manufacturing system
(as in England,) or (as in Ireland) under the stimulus of idle habits,
cheap subsistence, and a low standard of comfort--we think it much if we
can keep down insurrection by the bayonet and the sabre. _Lucro ponamus_
is our cry, if we can effect even thus much; whereas Rome, in her
simplest and pastoral days, converted this menacing danger and standing
opprobrium of modern statesmanship to her own immense benefit. Not
satisfied merely to have neutralized it, she drew from it the vital
resources of her martial aggrandizement. For, _Fifthly_, these colonies
were in two ways made the corner-stones of her martial policy: 1st, They
were looked to as nurseries of their armies; during one generation the
original colonists, already trained to military habits, were themselves
disposable for this purpose on any great emergency; these men
transmitted heroic traditions to their posterity; and, at all events, a
more robust population was always at hand in agricultural colonies
than could be had in the metropolis. Cato the elder, and all the early
writers, notice the quality of such levies as being far superior to
those drawn from a population of sedentary habits. 2dly, The Italian
colonies, one and all, performed the functions which in our day are
assigned to garrisoned towns and frontier fortresses. In the earliest
times they discharged a still more critical service, by sometimes
entirely displacing a hostile population, and more often by dividing it
and breaking its unity. In cases of desperate resistance to the Roman
arms, marked by frequent infraction of treaties, it was usual to remove
the offending population to a safer situation, separated from Rome by
the Tiber; sometimes entirely to disperse and scatter it. But, where
these extremities were not called for by expediency or the Roman maxims
of justice, it was judged sufficient to _interpolate_, as it were,
the hostile people by colonizations from Rome, which were completely
organized [Footnote: That is indeed involved in the technical term
of _Deductio_; for unless the ceremonies, religious and political, of
inauguration and organization, were duly complied with, the colony
was not entitled to be considered as _deducta_--that is, solemnly and
ceremonially transplanted from the metropolis.] for mutual aid, having
officers of all ranks dispersed amongst them, and for overawing the
growth of insurrectionary movements amongst their neighbors. Acting on
this system, the Roman colonies in some measure resembled the _English
Pale_, as existing at one era in Ireland. This mode of service, it is
true, became obsolete in process of time, concurrently with the dangers
which it was shaped to meet; for the whole of Italy proper, together
with that part of Italy called Cisalpine Gaul, was at length reduced
to unity and obedience by the almighty republic. But in forwarding that
great end, and indispensable condition towards all foreign warfare, no
one military engine in the whole armory of Rome availed so much as
her Italian colonies. The other use of these colonies, as frontier
garrisons, or, at any rate, as interposing between a foreign enemy and
the gates of Rome, they continued to perform long after their earlier
uses had passed away; and Cicero himself notices their value in this
view. "Colonias," says he [_Orat. in Rullum_], "sic idoneis in locis
contra suspicionem periculi collocarunt, ut esse non oppida Italiæ sed
_propugnacula_ imperii viderentur." _Finally_, the colonies were the
best means of promoting tillage, and the culture of vineyards. And
though this service, as regarded the Italian colonies, was greatly
defeated in succeeding times by the ruinous largesses of corn
[_frumentationes_], and other vices of the Roman policy after the vast
revolution effected by universal luxury, it is not the less true that,
left to themselves and their natural tendency, the Roman colonies would
have yielded this last benefit as certainly as any other. Large volumes
exist, illustrated by the learning of Rigaltius, Salmatius, and Goesius,
upon the mere technical arrangements of the Roman colonies. And whose
libraries might be written on these same colonies considered as engines
of exquisite state policy.] and by the habits of the people. This
monarchy had been of too slow a growth--too gradual, and too much
according to the regular stages of nature herself in its development, to
have any chance of being other than well cemented; the cohesion of its
parts was intense; seven centuries of growth demand one or two at least
for palpable decay; and it is only for harlequin empires like that of
Napoleon, run up with the rapidity of pantomime, to fall asunder under
the instant reaction of a few false moves in politics, or a single
unfortunate campaign. Hence it was, and from the prudence of Augustus
acting through a very long reign, sustained at no very distant interval
by the personal inspection and revisions of Hadrian, that for some time
the Roman power seemed to be stationary. What else could be expected?
The mere strength of the impetus derived from the republican
institutions, could not but propagate itself, and cause even a motion
in advance, for some time after those institutions had themselves given
way. And besides the military institutions survived all others; and the
army continued very much the same in its discipline and composition,
long after Rome and all its civic institutions had bent before an utter
revolution. It was very possible even that emperors should have arisen
with martial propensities, and talents capable of masking, for many
years, by specious but transitory conquests, the causes that were
silently sapping the foundations of Roman supremacy; and thus by
accidents of personal character and taste, an empire might even have
expanded itself in appearance, which, by all its permanent and real
tendencies, was even then shrinking within narrower limits, and
travelling downwards to dissolution. In reality, one such emperor there
was. Trajan, whether by martial inclinations, or (as is supposed by
some) by dissatisfaction with his own position at Rome, when brought
into more immediate connection with the senate, was driven into needless
war; and he achieved conquests in the direction of Dacia as well as
Parthia. But that these conquests were not substantial,--that they were
connected by no true cement of cohesion with the existing empire, is
evident from the rapidity with which they were abandoned. In the next
reign, the empire had already recoiled within its former limits; and
in two reigns further on, under Marcus Antoninus, though a prince of
elevated character and warlike in his policy, we find such concessions
of territory made to the Marcomanni and others, as indicate too plainly
the shrinking energies of a waning empire. In reality, if we consider
the polar opposition, in point of interest and situation, between the
great officers of the republic and the Augustus or Cæsar of the empire,
we cannot fail to see the immense effect which that difference must have
had upon the permanent spirit of conquest. Cæsar was either adopted
or elected to a situation of infinite luxury and enjoyment. He had
no interests to secure by fighting in person: and he had a powerful
interest in preventing others from fighting; since in that way only he
could raise up competitors to himself, and dangerous seducers of the
army. A consul, on the other hand, or great lieutenant of the senate,
had nothing to enjoy or to hope for, when his term of office should have
expired, unless according to his success in creating military fame and
influence for himself. Those Cæsars who fought whilst the empire was or
seemed to be stationary, as Trajan, did so from personal taste. Those
who fought in after centuries, when the decay became apparent, and
dangers drew nearer, as Aurelian, did so from the necessities of fear;
and under neither impulse were they likely to make durable conquests.
The spirit of conquest having therefore departed at the very time
when conquest would have become more difficult even to the republican
energies, both from remoteness of ground and from the martial character
of the chief nations which stood beyond the frontier,--it was a matter
of necessity that with the republican institutions should expire the
whole principle of territorial aggrandizement; and that, if the empire
seemed to be stationary for some time after its establishment by Julius,
and its final settlement by Augustus, this was through no strength of
its own, or inherent in its own constitution, but through the continued
action of that strength which it had inherited from the republic. In a
philosophical sense, therefore, it may be affirmed, that the empire of
the Cæsars was _always_ in decline; ceasing to go forward, it could not
do other than retrograde; and even the first _appearances_ of decline
can, with no propriety, be referred to the reign of Commodus. His vices
exposed him to public contempt and assassination; but neither one
nor the other had any effect upon the strength of the empire. Here,
therefore, is one just subject of complaint against Gibbon, that he has
dated the declension of the Roman power from a commencement arbitrarily
assumed; another, and a heavier, is, that he has failed to notice the
steps and separate indications of decline as they arose,--the moments
(to speak in the language of dynamics) through which the decline
travelled onwards to its consummation. It is also a grievous offence
as regards the true purposes of history,--and one which, in a complete
exposition of the imperial history, we should have a right to insist
on,--that Gibbon brings forward only such facts as allow of a scenical
treatment, and seems every where, by the glancing style of his
allusions, to presuppose an acquaintance with that very history which
he undertakes to deliver. Our immediate purpose, however, is simply
to characterize the office of emperor, and to notice such events and
changes as operated for evil, and for a final effect of decay, upon
the Cæsars or their empire. As the best means of realizing it, we shall
rapidly review the history of both, promising that we confine ourselves
to the true Cæsars, and the true empire, of the West.

The first overt act of weakness,--the first expression of conscious
declension, as regarded the foreign enemies of Rome, occurred in the
reign of Hadrian; for it is a very different thing to forbear making
conquests, and to renounce them when made. It is possible, however, that
the cession then made of Mesopotamia and Armenia, however sure to be
interpreted into the language of fear by the enemy, did not imply any
such principle in this emperor. He was of a civic and paternal spirit,
and anxious for the substantial welfare of the empire rather than its
ostentatious glory. The internal administration of affairs had very much
gone into neglect since the times of Augustus; and Hadrian was perhaps
right in supposing that he could effect more public good by an extensive
progress through the empire, and by a personal correction of abuses,
than by any military enterprise. It is, besides, asserted, that he
received an indemnity in money for the provinces beyond the Euphratus.
But still it remains true, that in his reign the God Terminus made his
first retrograde motion; and this emperor became naturally an object of
public obloquy at Rome, and his name fell under the superstitious ban of
a fatal tradition connected with the foundation of the capitol. The two
Antonines, Titus and Marcus, who came next in succession, were truly
good and patriotic princes; perhaps the only princes in the whole series
who combined the virtues of private and of public life. In their reigns
the frontier line was maintained in its integrity, and at the expense
of some severe fighting under Marcus, who was a strenuous general at
the same time that he was a severe student. It is, however, true, as we
observed above, that, by allowing a settlement within the Roman
frontier to a barbarous people, Marcus Aurelius raised the first ominous
precedent in favor of those Gothic, Vandal, and Frankish hives, who
were as yet hidden behind a cloud of years. Homes had been obtained by
Trans-Danubian barbarians upon the sacred territory of Rome and Cæsar:
that fact remained upon tradition; whilst the terms upon which they had
been obtained, how much or how little connected with fear, necessarily
became liable to doubt and to oblivion. Here we pause to remark, that
the first twelve Cæsars, together with Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the
two Antonines, making seventeen emperors, compose the first of four
nearly equal groups, who occupied the throne in succession until
the extinction of the Western Empire. And at this point be it
observed,--that is, at the termination of the first group,--we take
leave of all genuine virtue. In no one of the succeeding princes, if we
except Alexander Severus, do we meet with any goodness of heart, or even
amiableness of manners. The best of the future emperors, in a public
sense, were harsh and repulsive in private character.

The second group, as we have classed them, terminating with Philip the
Arab, commences with Commodus. This unworthy prince, although the son of
the excellent Marcus Antoninus, turned out a monster of debauchery.
At the moment of his father's death, he was present in person at the
head-quarters of the army on the Danube, and of necessity partook
in many of their hardships. This it was which furnished his evil
counsellors with their sole argument for urging his departure to the
capital. A council having been convened, the faction of court sycophants
pressed upon his attention the inclemency of the climate, contrasting it
with the genial skies and sunny fields of Italy; and the season, which
happened to be winter, gave strength to their representations. What!
would the emperor be content for ever to hew out the frozen water with
an axe before he could assuage his thirst? And, again, the total want of
fruit-trees--did that recommend their present station as a fit one for
the imperial court? Commodus, ashamed to found his objections to the
station upon grounds so unsoldierly as these, affected to be moved by
political reasons: some great senatorial house might take advantage of
his distance from home,--might seize the palace, fortify it, and raise
levies in Italy capable of sustaining its pretensions to the throne.
These arguments were combated by Pompeianus, who, besides his personal
weight as an officer, had married the eldest sister of the young
emperor. Shame prevailed for the present with Commodus, and he dismissed
the council with an assurance that he would think farther of it. The
sequel was easy to foresee. Orders were soon issued for the departure of
the court to Rome, and the task of managing the barbarians of Dacia, was
delegated to lieutenants. The system upon which these officers executed
their commission was a mixed one of terror and persuasion. Some they
defeated in battle; and these were the majority; for Herodian says,
_pleizous ton barbaron haplois echeirosanto_: Others they bribed into
peace by large sums of money. And no doubt this last article in the
policy of Commodus was that which led Gibbon to assign to this reign the
first rudiments of the Roman declension. But it should be remembered,
that, virtually, this policy was but the further prosecution of that
which had already been adopted by Marcus Aurelius. Concessions and
temperaments of any sort or degree showed that the Pannonian frontier
was in too formidable a condition to be treated with uncompromising
rigor. To _hamerimnon onoumenos_, purchasing an immunity from all
further anxiety, Commodus (as the historian expresses it) _panta edidou
ta aitoumena_--conceded all demands whatever. His journey to Rome was
one continued festival: and the whole population of Rome turned out
to welcome him. At this period he was undoubtedly the darling of the
people: his personal beauty was splendid; and he was connected by blood
with some of the greatest nobility. Over this flattering scene of hope
and triumph clouds soon gathered: with the mob, indeed, there is reason
to think that he continued a favorite to the last; but the respectable
part of the citizens were speedily disgusted with his self-degradation,
and came to hate him even more than ever or by any class he had been
loved. The Roman pride never shows itself more conspicuously throughout
all history, than in the alienation of heart which inevitably followed
any great and continued outrages upon his own majesty, committed by
their emperor. Cruelties the most atrocious, acts of vengeance the most
bloody, fratricide, parricide, all were viewed with more toleration than
oblivion of his own inviolable sanctity. Hence we imagine the wrath
with which Rome would behold Commodus, under the eyes of four hundred
thousand spectators, making himself a party to the contests of
gladiators. In his earlier exhibitions as an archer, it is possible that
his matchless dexterity, and his unerring eye, would avail to mitigate
the censures: but when the Roman Imperator actually descended to
the arena in the garb and equipments of a servile prize-fighter, and
personally engaged in combat with such antagonists, having previously
submitted to their training and discipline--the public indignation
rose a to height, which spoke aloud the language of encouragement to
conspiracy and treason. These were not wanting: three memorable plots
against his life were defeated; one of them (that of Maternus, the
robber) accompanied with romantic circumstances, [Footnote: On this
occasion we may notice that the final execution of the vengeance
projected by Maternus, was reserved for a public festival, exactly
corresponding to the modern _carnival_; and from an expression used by
Herodian, it is plain that masquerading had been an ancient practice
in Rome.] which we have narrated in an earlier paper of this series.
Another was set on foot by his eldest sister, Lucilla; nor did her close
relationship protect her from capital punishment. In that instance,
the immediate agent of her purposes, Quintianus, a young man, of signal
resolution and daring, who had attempted to stab the emperor at the
entrance of the amphitheatre, though baffled in his purpose, uttered a
word which rang continually in the ears of Commodus, and poisoned
his peace of mind for ever. His vengeance, perhaps, was thus more
effectually accomplished than if he had at once dismissed his victim
from life. "The senate," he had said, "sends thee this through me:" and
henceforward the senate was the object of unslumbering suspicions to the
emperor. Yet the public suspicions settled upon a different quarter; and
a very memorable scene must have pointed his own in the same direction,
supposing that he had previously been blind to his danger. On a day
of great solemnity, when Rome had assembled her myriads in the
amphitheatre, just at the very moment when the nobles, the magistrates,
the priests, all, in short, that was venerable or consecrated in the
State, with the Imperator in their centre, had taken their seats, and
were waiting for the opening of the shows, a stranger, in the robe of
a philosopher, bearing a staff in his hand, (which also was the
professional ensign [Footnote: See Casaubon's notes upon Theophrastus.]
of a philosopher,) stepped forward, and, by the waving of his hand,
challenged the attention of Commodus. Deep silence ensued: upon which,
in a few words, ominous to the ear as the handwriting on the wall to the
eye of Belshazzar, the stranger unfolded to Commodus the instant peril
which menaced both his life and his throne, from his great servant
Perennius. What personal purpose of benefit to himself this stranger
might have connected with his public warning, or by whom he might have
been suborned, was never discovered; for he was instantly arrested by
the agents of the great officer whom he had denounced, dragged away to
punishment, and put to a cruel death. Commodus dissembled his panic for
the present; but soon after, having received undeniable proofs (as is
alleged) of the treason imputed to Perennius, in the shape of a
coin which had been struck by his son, he caused the father to be
assassinated; and, on the same day, by means of forged letters, before
this news could reach the son, who commanded the Illyrian armies, he
lured him also to destruction, under the belief that he was obeying the
summons of his father to a private interview on the Italian frontier.
So perished those enemies, if enemies they really were. But to these
tragedies succeeded others far more comprehensive in their mischief, and
in more continuous succession than is recorded upon any other page of
universal history. Rome was ravaged by a pestilence--by a famine--by
riots amounting to a civil war--by a dreadful massacre of the unarmed
mob--by shocks of earthquake--and, finally, by a fire which consumed
the national bank, [Footnote: Viz. the Temple of Peace; at that time the
most magnificent edifice in Rome. Temples, it is well known, were the
places used in ancient times as banks of deposit. For this function
they were admirably fitted by their inviolable sanctity.] and the most
sumptuous buildings of the city. To these horrors, with a rapidity
characteristic of the Roman depravity, and possible only under the most
extensive demoralization of the public mind, succeeded festivals of
gorgeous pomp, and amphitheatrical exhibitions, upon a scale of grandeur
absolutely unparalleled by all former attempts. Then were beheld, and
familiarized to the eyes of the Roman mob--to children--and to women,
animals as yet known to us, says Herodian, only in pictures. Whatever
strange or rare animal could be drawn from the depths of India, from
Siam and Pegu, or from the unvisited nooks of Ethiopia, were now brought
together as subjects for the archery of the universal lord. [Footnote:
What a prodigious opportunity for the zoologist!--And considering
that these shows prevailed, for 500 years, during all which period the
amphitheatre gave bounties, as it were, to the hunter and the fowler of
every climate, and that, by means of a stimulus so constantly applied,
scarcely any animal, the shyest, rarest, fiercest, escaped the demands
of the arena,--no one fact so much illustrates the inertia of the public
mind in those days, and the indifference to all scientific pursuits, as
that no annotator should have risen to Pliny the elder--no rival to the
immortal tutor of Alexander.] Invitations (and the invitations of kings
are commands) had been scattered on this occasion profusely; not, as
heretofore, to individuals or to families--but, as was in proportion
to the occasion where an emperor was the chief performer, to nations.
People were summoned by circles of longitude and latitude to come
and see _theasumenoi ha mæ proteron mæte heormkesun mæte
ækaekoeisun_--things that eye had not seen nor ear heard of] the
specious miracles of nature brought together from arctic and from tropic
deserts, putting forth their strength, their speed, or their beauty, and
glorifying by their deaths the matchless hand of the Roman king.
There was beheld the lion from Bilidulgerid, and the leopard from
Hindostan--the rein-deer from polar latitudes--the antelope from the
Zaara--and the leigh, or gigantic stag, from Britain. Thither came the
buffalo and the bison, the white bull of Northumberland and Galloway,
the unicorn from the regions of Nepaul or Thibet, the rhinoceros and
the river-horse from Senegal, with the elephant of Ceylon or Siam. The
ostrich and the cameleopard, the wild ass and the zebra, the chamois and
the ibex of Angora,--all brought their tributes of beauty or deformity
to these vast aceldamas of Rome: their savage voices ascended in
tumultuous uproar to the chambers of the capitol: a million of
spectators sat round them: standing in the centre was a single
statuesque figure--the imperial sagittary, beautiful as an Antinous, and
majestic as a Jupiter, whose hand was so steady and whose eye so true,
that he was never known to miss, and who, in this accomplishment at
least, was so absolute in his excellence, that, as we are assured by a
writer not disposed to flatter him, the very foremost of the Parthian
archers and of the Mauritanian lancers [_Parthyaion oi toxichæs
hachribentes, chai Mauresion oi hachontixein harizoi_] were not able
to contend with him. Juvenal, in a well known passage upon the
disproportionate endings of illustrious careers, drawing one of his
examples from Marius, says, that he ought, for his own glory, and to
make his end correspondent to his life, to have died at the moment when
he descended from his triumphal chariot at the portals of the capitol.
And of Commodus, in like manner, it may be affirmed, that, had he
died in the exercise of his peculiar art, with a hecatomb of victims
rendering homage to his miraculous skill, by the regularity of the files
which they presented, as they lay stretched out dying or dead upon the
arena,--he would have left a splendid and a characteristic impression
of himself upon that nation of spectators who had witnessed his
performance. He was the noblest artist in his own profession that the
world had seen--in archery he was the Robin Hood of Rome; he was in the
very meridian of his youth; and he was the most beautiful man of his
own times _Ton chath eauton hathropon challei euprepestatos_. He would
therefore have looked the part admirably of the dying gladiator; and he
would have died in his natural vocation. But it was ordered otherwise;
his death was destined to private malice, and to an ignoble hand. And
much obscurity still rests upon the motives of the assassins, though its
circumstances are reported with unusual minuteness of detail. One
thing is evident, that the public and patriotic motives assigned by the
perpetrators as the remote causes of their conspiracy, cannot have been
the true ones. The grave historian may sum up his character of Commodus
by saying that, however richly endowed with natural gifts, he abused
them all to bad purposes; that he derogated from his noble ancestors,
and disavowed the obligations of his illustrious name; and, as the
climax of his offences, that he dishonored the purple--_aischrois
epitædeumasin_--by the baseness of his pursuits. All that is true, and
more than that. But these considerations were not of a nature to
affect his parasitical attendants very nearly or keenly. Yet the story
runs--that Marcia, his privileged mistress, deeply affected by the
anticipation of some further outrages upon his high dignity which he
was then meditating, had carried the importunity of her deprecations too
far; that the irritated emperor had consequently inscribed her name, in
company with others, (whom he had reason to tax with the same offence,
or whom he suspected of similar sentiments,) in his little black book,
or pocket souvenir of death; that this book, being left under the
cushion of a sofa, had been conveyed into the hands of Marcia by a
little pet boy, called Philo-Commodus, who was caressed equally by the
emperor and by Marcia; that she had immediately called to her aid, and
to the participation of her plot, those who participated in her danger;
and that the proximity of their own intended fate had prescribed to them
an immediate attempt; the circumstances of which were these. At mid-day
the emperor was accustomed to bathe, and at the same time to take
refreshments. On this occasion, Marcia, agreeably to her custom,
presented him with a goblet of wine, medicated with poison. Of this
wine, having just returned from the fatigues of the chase, Commodus
drank freely, and almost immediately fell into heavy slumbers; from
which, however, he was soon aroused by deadly sickness. That was a case
which the conspirators had not taken into their calculations; and they
now began to fear that the violent vomiting which succeeded might throw
off the poison. There was no time to be lost; and the barbarous Marcia,
who had so often slept in the arms of the young emperor, was the person
to propose that he should now be strangled. A young gladiator, named
Narcissus, was therefore introduced into the room; what passed is not
known circumstantially; but, as the emperor was young and athletic,
though off his guard at the moment, and under the disadvantage
of sickness, and as he had himself been regularly trained in the
gladiatorial discipline, there can be little doubt that the vile
assassin would meet with a desperate resistance. And thus, after all,
there is good reason to think that the emperor resigned his life in the
character of a dying gladiator. [Footnote: It is worthy of notice, that,
under any suspension of the imperatorial power or office, the senate
was the body to whom the Roman mind even yet continued to turn. In this
case, both to color their crime with a show of public motives, and to
interest this great body in their own favor by associating them in their
own dangers, the conspirators pretended to have found a long roll of
senatorial names included in the same page of condemnation with their
own. A manifest fabrication!]

So perished the eldest and sole surviving son of the great Marcus
Antoninus; and the crown passed into the momentary possession of two old
men, who reigned in succession each for a few weeks. The first of
these was Pertinax, an upright man, a good officer, and an unseasonable
reformer; unseasonable for those times, but more so for himself. Lætus,
the ringleader in the assassination of Commodus, had been at that time
the prætorian prefect--an office which a German writer considers as best
represented to modern ideas by the Turkish post of grand vizier.
Needing a protector at this moment, he naturally fixed his eyes upon
Pertinax--as then holding the powerful command of city prefect (or
governor of Rome.) Him therefore he recommended to the soldiery--that
is, to the prætorian cohorts. The soldiery had no particular objection
to the old general, if he and they could agree upon terms; his age being
doubtless appreciated as a first-rate recommendation, in a case where it
insured a speedy renewal of the lucrative bargain.

The only demur arose with Pertinax himself: he had been leader of the
troops in Britain, then superintendent of the police in Rome, thirdly
proconsul in Africa, and finally consul and governor of Rome. In these
great official stations he stood near enough to the throne to observe
the dangers with which it was surrounded; and it is asserted that he
declined the offered dignity. But it is added, that, finding the choice
allowed him lay between immediate death [Footnote: Historians have
failed to remark the contradiction between this statement and
the allegation that Lætus selected Pertinax for the throne on a
consideration of his ability to protect the assassins of Commodus.] and
acceptance, he closed with the proposals of the praetorian cohorts, at
the rate of about ninety-six pounds per man; which largess he paid by
bringing to sale the rich furniture of the last emperor. The danger
which usually threatened a Roman Cæsar in such cases was--lest he should
not be able to fulfill his contract. But in the case of Pertinax the
danger began from the moment when he _had_ fulfilled it. Conceiving
himself to be now released from his dependency, he commenced his
reforms, civil as well as military, with a zeal which alarmed all those
who had an interest in maintaining the old abuses. To two great factions
he thus made himself especially obnoxious--to the praetorian cohorts,
and to the courtiers under the last reign. The connecting link between
these two parties was Lætus, who belonged personally to the last, and
still retained his influence with the first. Possibly his fears
were alarmed; but, at all events, his cupidity was not satisfied. He
conceived himself to have been ill rewarded; and, immediately resorting
to the same weapons which he had used against Commodus, he stimulated
the praetorian guards to murder the emperor. Three hundred of them
pressed into the palace: Pertinax attempted to harangue them, and to
vindicate himself; but not being able to obtain a hearing, he folded his
robe about his head, called upon Jove the Avenger, and was immediately

The throne was again empty after a reign of about eighty days; and now
came the memorable scandal of putting up the empire to auction. There
were two bidders, Sulpicianus and Didius Julianus. The first, however,
at that time governor of Rome, lay under a weight of suspicion, being
the father-in-law of Pertinax, and likely enough to exact vengeance for
his murder. He was besides outbid by Julianus. Sulpician offered about
one hundred and sixty pounds a man to the guards; his rival offered two
hundred, and assured them besides of immediate payment; "for," said
he, "I have the money at home, without needing to raise it from the
possessions of the crown." Upon this the empire was knocked down to the
highest bidder. So shocking, however, was this arrangement to the
Roman pride, that the guards durst not leave their new creation without
military protection. The resentment of an unarmed mob, however, soon
ceased to be of foremost importance; this resentment extended rapidly
to all the frontiers of the empire, where the armies felt that the
prætorian cohorts had no exclusive title to give away the throne, and
their leaders felt, that, in a contest of this nature, their own claims
were incomparably superior to those of the present occupant. Three great
candidates therefore started forward--Septimius Severus, who commanded
the armies in Illyria, Pescennius Niger in Syria, and Albinus in
Britain. Severus, as the nearest to Rome, marched and possessed himself
of that city. Vengeance followed upon all parties concerned in the late
murder. Julianus, unable to complete his bargain, had already been put
to death, as a deprecatory offering to the approaching army. Severus
himself inflicted death upon Lætus, and dismissed the praetorian
cohorts. Thence marching against his Syrian rival, Niger, who had
formerly been his friend, and who was not wanting in military skill, he
overthrew him in three great battles. Niger fled to Antioch, the seat
of his late government, and was there decapitated. Meantime Albinus, the
British commander-in-chief, had already been won over by the title of
Cæsar, or adopted heir to the new Augustus. But the hollowness of this
bribe soon became apparent, and the two competitors met to decide their
pretensions at Lyons. In the great battle which followed, Severus fell
from his horse, and was at first supposed to be dead. But recovering, he
defeated his rival, who immediately committed suicide. Severus displayed
his ferocious temper sufficiently by sending the head of Albinus to
Rome. Other expressions of his natural character soon followed: he
suspected strongly that Albinus had been favored by the senate; forty of
that body, with their wives and children, were immediately sacrificed to
his wrath; but he never forgave the rest, nor endured to live upon terms
of amity amongst them. Quitting Rome in disgust, he employed himself
first in making war upon the Parthians, who had naturally, from
situation, befriended his Syrian rival. Their capital cities he
overthrew; and afterwards, by way of employing his armies, made war
in Britain. At the city of York he died; and to his two sons, Geta and
Caracalla, he bequeathed, as his dying advice, a maxim of policy, which
sufficiently indicates the situation of the empire at that period; it
was this--"To enrich the soldiery at any price, and to regard the rest
of their subjects as so many ciphers." But, as a critical historian
remarks, this was a shortsighted and self-destroying policy; since in
no way is the subsistence of the soldier made more insecure, than by
diminishing the general security of rights and property to those who are
not soldiers, from whom, after all, the funds must be sought, by
which the soldier himself is to be paid and nourished. The two sons
of Severus, whose bitter enmity is so memorably put on record by their
actions, travelled simultaneously to Rome; but so mistrustful of each
other, that at every stage the two princes took up their quarters at
different houses. Geta has obtained the sympathy of historians, because
he happened to be the victim; but there is reason to think, that each
of the brothers was conspiring against the other. The weak credulity,
rather than the conscious innocence, of Geta, led to the catastrophe; he
presented himself at a meeting with his brother in the presence of their
common mother, and was murdered by Caracalla in his mother's arms. He
was, however, avenged; the horrors of that tragedy, and remorse for the
twenty thousand murders which had followed, never forsook the guilty
Caracalla. Quitting Rome, but pursued into every region by the bloody
image of his brother, the emperor henceforward led a wandering life at
the head of his legions; but never was there a better illustration of
the poet's maxim, that

  'Remorse is as the mind in which it grows:
  If _that_ be gentle,' &c.

For the remorse of Caracalla put on no shape of repentance. On the
contrary, he carried anger and oppression wherever he moved; and
protected himself from plots only by living in the very centre of a
nomadic camp. Six years had passed away in this manner, when a mere
accident led to his assassination. For the sake of security, the office
of praetorian prefect had been divided between two commissioners, one
for military affairs, the other for civil. The latter of these two
officers was Opilius Macrinus. This man has, by some historians, been
supposed to have harbored no bad intentions; but, unfortunately, an
astrologer had foretold that he was destined to the throne. The prophet
was laid in irons at Rome, and letters were dispatched to Caracalla,
apprizing him of the case. These letters, as yet unopened, were
transferred by the emperor, then occupied in witnessing a race, to
Macrinus, who thus became acquainted with the whole grounds of suspicion
against himself,--grounds which, to the jealousy of the emperor, he
well knew would appear substantial proofs. Upon this he resolved to
anticipate the emperor in the work of murder. The head-quarters were
then at Edessa; and upon his instigation, a disappointed centurion,
named Martialis, animated also by revenge for the death of his brother,
undertook to assassinate Caracalla. An opportunity soon offered, on
a visit which the prince made to the celebrated temple of the moon at
Carrhæ. The attempt was successful: the emperor perished; but Martialis
paid the penalty of his crime in the same hour, being shot by a Scythian
archer of the body-guard.

Macrinus, after three days' interregnum, being elected emperor, began
his reign by purchasing a peace from the Parthians. What the empire
chiefly needed at this moment, is evident from the next step taken by
this emperor. He labored to restore the ancient discipline of the armies
in all its rigor. He was aware of the risk he ran in this attempt; and
that he _was_ so, is the best evidence of the strong necessity which
existed for reform. Perhaps, however, he might have surmounted his
difficulties and dangers, had he met with no competitor round whose
person the military malcontents could rally. But such a competitor soon
arose; and, to the astonishment of all the world, in the person of a
Syrian. The Emperor Severus, on losing his first wife, had resolved to
strengthen the pretensions of his family by a second marriage with some
lady having a regal "genesis," that is, whose horoscope promised a regal
destiny. Julia Domna, a native of Syria, offered him this dowry, and she
became the mother of Geta. A sister of this Julia, called Moesa,
had, through two different daughters, two grandsons--Heliogabalus and
Alexander Severus. The mutineers of the army rallied round the first of
these; a battle was fought; and Macrinus, with his son Diadumenianus,
whom he had adopted to the succession, were captured and put to death.
Heliogabalus succeeded, and reigned in the monstrous manner which has
rendered his name infamous in history. In what way, however, he lost the
affections of the army, has never been explained. His mother, Sooemias,
the eldest daughter of Moesa, had represented herself as the concubine
of Caracalla; and Heliogabalus, being thus accredited as the son of that
emperor, whose memory was dear to the soldiery, had enjoyed the full
benefit of that descent, nor can it be readily explained how he came to
lose it.

Here, in fact, we meet with an instance of that dilemma which is so
constantly occurring in the history of the Cæsars. If a prince is by
temperament disposed to severity of manners, and naturally seeks to
impress his own spirit upon the composition and discipline of the army,
we are sure to find that he was cut off in his attempts by private
assassination or by public rebellion. On the other hand, if he wallows
in sensuality, and is careless about all discipline, civil or military,
we then find as commonly that he loses the esteem and affections of
the army to some rival of severer habits. And in the midst of such
oscillations, and with examples of such contradictory interpretation, we
cannot wonder that the Roman princes did not oftener take warning by the
misfortunes of their predecessors. In the present instance, Alexander,
the cousin of Heliogabalus, without intrigues of his own, and simply (as
it appears) by the purity and sobriety of his conduct, had alienated
the affections of the army from the reigning prince. Either jealousy or
prudence had led Heliogabalus to make an attempt upon his rival's life;
and this attempt had nearly cost him his own through the mutiny which
it caused. In a second uproar, produced by some fresh intrigues of the
emperor against his cousin, the soldiers became unmanageable, and they
refused to pause until they had massacred Heliogabalus, together with
his mother, and raised his cousin Alexander to the throne.

The reforms of this prince, who reigned under the name of Alexander
Severus, were extensive and searching; not only in his court, which he
purged of all notorious abuses, but throughout the economy of the army.
He cashiered, upon one occasion, an entire legion: he restored, as far
as he was able, the ancient discipline; and, above all, he liberated
the provinces from military spoliation. "Let the soldier," said he, "be
contented with his pay; and whatever more he wants, let him obtain it
by victory from the enemy, not by pillage from his fellow-subject." But
whatever might be the value or extent of his reforms in the marching
regiments, Alexander could not succeed in binding the prætorian guards
to his yoke. Under the guardianship of his mother Mammæa, the conduct of
state affairs had been submitted to a council of sixteen persons, at
the head of which stood the celebrated Ulpian. To this minister the
prætorians imputed the reforms, and perhaps the whole spirit of reform;
for they pursued him with a vengeance which is else hardly to be
explained. Many days was Ulpian protected by the citizens of Rome, until
the whole city was threatened with conflagration; he then fled to the
palace of the young emperor, who in vain attempted to save him from his
pursuers under the shelter of the imperial purple. Ulpian was murdered
before his eyes; nor was it found possible to punish the ringleader
in this foul conspiracy, until he had been removed by something like
treachery to a remote government.

Meantime, a great revolution and change of dynasty had been effected in
Parthia; the line of the Arsacidæ was terminated; the Parthian empire
was at an end; and the sceptre of Persia was restored under the new race
of the Sassanides. Artaxerxes, the first prince of this race, sent an
embassy of four hundred select knights, enjoining the Roman emperor to
content himself with Europe, and to leave Asia to the Persians. In the
event of a refusal, the ambassadors were instructed to offer a defiance
to the Roman prince. Upon such an insult, Alexander could not do less,
with either safety or dignity, than prepare for war. It is probable,
indeed, that, by this expedition, which drew off the minds of the
soldiery from brooding upon the reforms which offended them, the life
of Alexander was prolonged. But the expedition itself was mismanaged,
or was unfortunate. This result, however, does not seem chargeable upon
Alexander. All the preparations were admirable on the march, and up to
the enemy's frontier. The invasion it was, which, in a strategic sense,
seems to have been ill combined. Three armies were to have entered
Persia simultaneously: one of these, which was destined to act on a
flank of the general line, entangled itself in the marshy grounds near
Babylon, and was cut off by the archery of an enemy whom it could
not reach. The other wing, acting upon ground impracticable for the
manoeuvres of the Persian cavalry, and supported by Chosroes the king
of Armenia, gave great trouble to Artaxerxes, and, with adequate support
from the other armies, would doubtless have been victorious. But the
central army, under the conduct of Alexander in person, discouraged by
the destruction of one entire wing, remained stationary in Mesopotamia
throughout the summer, and, at the close of the campaign, was withdrawn
to Antioch, _re infectâ_. It has been observed that great mystery hangs
over the operations and issue of this short war. Thus much, however, is
evident, that nothing but the previous exhaustion of the Persian king
saved the Roman armies from signal discomfiture; and even thus there is
no ground for claiming a victory (as most historians do) to the Roman
arms. Any termination of the Persian war, however, whether glorious or
not, was likely to be personally injurious to Alexander, by allowing
leisure to the soldiery for recurring to their grievances. Sensible, no
doubt, of this, Alexander was gratified by the occasion which then arose
for repressing the hostile movements of the Germans. He led his army off
upon this expedition; but their temper was gloomy and threatening; and
at length, after reaching the seat of war, at Mentz, an open mutiny
broke out under the guidance of Maximin, which terminated in the murder
of the emperor and his mother. By Herodian the discontents of the army
are referred to the ill management of the Persian campaign, and the
unpromising commencement of the new war in Germany. But it seems
probable that a dissolute and wicked army, like that of Alexander, had
not murmured under the too little, but the too much of military service;
not the buying a truce with gold seems to have offended them, but the
having led them at all upon an enterprise of danger and hardship.

Maximin succeeded, whose feats of strength, when he first courted the
notice of the Emperor Severus, have been described by Gibbon. He was
at that period a Thracian peasant; since then he had risen gradually
to high offices; but, according to historians, he retained his Thracian
brutality to the last. That may have been true; but one remark must be
made upon this occasion: Maximin was especially opposed to the senate;
and, wherever that was the case, no justice was done to an emperor. Why
it was that Maximin would not ask for the confirmation of his
election from the senate, has never been explained; it is said that he
anticipated a rejection. But, on the other hand, it seems probable that
the senate supposed its sanction to be despised. Nothing, apparently,
but this reciprocal reserve in making approaches to each other, was
the cause of all the bloodshed which followed. The two Gordians, who
commanded in Africa, were set up by the senate against the new emperor;
and the consternation of that body must have been great, when these
champions were immediately overthrown and killed. They did not, however,
despair: substituting the two governors of Rome, Pupienus and Balbinus,
and associating to them the younger Gordian, they resolved to make a
stand; for the severities of Maximin had by this time manifested that
it was a contest of extermination. Meantime, Maximin had broken up from
Sirmium, the capital of Pannonia, and had advanced to Aquileia,--that
famous fortress, which in every invasion of Italy was the first object
of attack. The senate had set a price upon his head; but there was every
probability that he would have triumphed, had he not disgusted his army
by immoderate severities. It was, however, but reasonable that those,
who would not support the strict but equitable discipline of the mild
Alexander, should suffer under the barbarous and capricious rigor of
Maximin. That rigor was his ruin: sunk and degraded as the senate was,
and now but the shadow of a mighty name, it was found on this occasion
to have long arms when supported by the frenzy of its opponent. Whatever
might be the real weakness of this body, the rude soldiers yet felt a
blind traditionary veneration for its sanction, when prompting them as
patriots to an act which their own multiplied provocations had but too
much recommended to their passions. A party entered the tent of Maximin,
and dispatched him with the same unpitying haste which he had shown
under similar circumstances to the gentle-minded Alexander. Aquileia
opened her gates immediately, and thus made it evident that the war had
been personal to Maximin.

A scene followed within a short time which is in the highest degree
interesting. The senate, in creating two emperors at once (for the boy
Gordian was probably associated to them only by way of masking their
experiment), had made it evident that their purpose was to restore the
republic and its two consuls. This was their meaning; and the experiment
had now been twice repeated. The army saw through it: as to the double
number of emperors, _that_ was of little consequence, farther than as
it expressed their intention, viz. by bringing back the consular
government, to restore the power of the senate, and to abrogate that of
the army. The prætorian troops, who were the most deeply interested in
preventing this revolution, watched their opportunity, and attacked the
two emperors in the palace. The deadly feud, which had already arisen
between them, led each to suppose himself under assault from the other.
The mistake was not of long duration. Carried into the streets of Rome,
they were both put to death, and treated with monstrous indignities. The
young Gordian was adopted by the soldiery. It seems odd that even thus
far the guards should sanction the choice of the senate, having the
purposes which they had; but perhaps Gordian had recommended himself to
their favor in a degree which might outweigh what they considered
the original vice of his appointment, and his youth promised them
an immediate impunity. This prince, however, like so many of his
predecessors, soon came to an unhappy end. Under the guardianship of the
upright Misitheus, for a time he prospered; and preparations were made
upon a great scale for the energetic administration of a Persian war.
But Misitheus died, perhaps by poison, in the course of the campaign;
and to him succeeded, as prætorian prefect, an Arabian officer, called
Philip. The innocent boy, left without friends, was soon removed by
murder; and a monument was afterwards erected to his memory, at the
junction of the Aboras and the Euphrates. Great obscurity, however,
clouds this part of history; nor is it so much as known in what way the
Persian war was conducted or terminated.

Philip, having made himself emperor, celebrated, upon his arrival in
Rome, the secular games, in the year 247 of the Christian era--that
being the completion of a thousand years from the foundation of Rome.
But Nemesis was already on his steps. An insurrection had broken out
amongst the legions stationed in Mœsia; and they had raised to the
purple some officer of low rank. Philip, having occasion to notice this
affair in the senate, received for answer from Decius, that probably the
pseudo-imperator would prove a mere evanescent phantom. This conjecture
was confirmed; and Philip in consequence conceived a high opinion of
Decius, whom (as the insurrection still continued) he judged to be the
fittest man for appeasing it. Decius accordingly went, armed with the
proper authority. But on his arrival, he found himself compelled by the
insurgent army to choose between empire and death. Thus constrained, he
yielded to the wishes of the troops; and then hastening with a veteran
army into Italy, he fought the battle of Verona, where Philip was
defeated and killed, whilst the son of Philip was murdered at Rome by
the prætorian guards.

With Philip ends, according to our distribution, the second series of
the Cæsars, comprehending Commodus, Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Septimius
Severus, Caracalla, and Geta, Macrinus, Heliogabalus, Alexander Severus,
Maximin, the two Gordians, Pupienus and Balbinus, the third Gordian, and
Philip the Arab.

In looking back at this series of Cæsars, we are horror-struck at the
blood-stained picture. Well might a foreign writer, in reviewing the
same succession, declare, that it is like passing into a new world when
the transition is made from this chapter of the human history to that of
modern Europe. From Commodus to Decius are sixteen names, which, spread
through a space of 59 years, assign to each Cæsar a reign of less than
four years. And Casaubon remarks, that, in one period of 160 years,
there were 70 persons who assumed the Roman purple; which gives to
each not much more than two years. On the other hand, in the history of
France, we find that, through a period of 1200 years, there have been
no more than 64 kings: upon an average, therefore, each king appears to
have enjoyed a reign of nearly nineteen years. This vast difference
in security is due to two great principles,--that of primogeniture as
between son and son, and of hereditary succession as between a son and
every other pretender. Well may we hail the principle of hereditary
right as realizing the praise of Burke applied to chivalry, viz., that
it is "the cheap defence of nations;" for the security which is thus
obtained, be it recollected, does not regard a small succession of
princes, but the whole rights and interests of social man: since the
contests for the rights of belligerent rivals do not respect themselves
only, but very often spread ruin and proscription amongst all orders
of men. The principle of hereditary succession, says one writer, had it
been a discovery of any one individual, would deserve to be considered
as the very greatest ever made; and he adds acutely, in answer to the
obvious, but shallow objection to it (viz. its apparent assumption of
equal ability for reigning in father and son for ever), that it is like
the Copernican system of the heavenly bodies,--contradictory to our
sense and first impressions, but true notwithstanding.


To return, however, to our sketch of the Cæsars--at the head of the
third series we place Decius. He came to the throne at a moment of great
public embarrassment. The Goths were now beginning to press southwards
upon the empire. Dacia they had ravaged for some time; "and here," says
a German writer, "observe the shortsightedness of the Emperor Trajan."
Had he left the Dacians in possession of their independence, they would,
under their native kings, have made head against the Goths. But, being
compelled to assume the character of Roman citizens, they had lost their
warlike qualities. From Dacia the Goths had descended upon Moesia; and,
passing the Danube, they laid siege to Marcianopolis, a city built by
Trajan in honor of his sister. The inhabitants paid a heavy ransom for
their town; and the Goths were persuaded for the present to return home.
But sooner than was expected, they returned to Moesia, under their king,
Kniva; and they were already engaged in the siege of Nicopolis, when
Decius came in sight at the head of the Roman army. The Goths retired,
but it was to Thrace; and, in the conquest of Philippopolis, they found
an ample indemnity for their forced retreat and disappointment. Decius
pursued, but the king of the Goths turned suddenly upon him; the emperor
was obliged to fly; the Roman camp was plundered; Philippopolis was
taken by storm; and its whole population, reputed at more than a hundred
thousand souls, destroyed.

Such was the first great irruption of the barbarians into the Roman
territory: and panic was diffused on the wings of the winds over the
whole empire. Decius, however, was firm, and made prodigious efforts to
restore the balance of power to its ancient condition. For the moment he
had some partial successes. He cut off several detachments of Goths, on
their road to reinforce the enemy; and he strengthened the fortresses
and garrisons of the Danube. But his last success was the means of his
total ruin. He came up with the Goths at Forum Terebronii, and, having
surrounded their position, their destruction seemed inevitable. A great
battle ensued, and a mighty victory to the Goths. Nothing is now known
of the circumstances, except that the third line of the Romans was
entangled inextricably in a morass (as had happened in the Persian
expedition of Alexander). Decius perished on this occasion--nor was it
possible to find his dead body. This great defeat naturally raised the
authority of the senate, in the same proportion as it depressed that of
the army; and by the will of that body, Hostilianus, a son of Decius,
was raised to the empire; and ostensibly on account of his youth, but
really with a view to their standing policy of restoring the consulate,
and the whole machinery of the republic, Gallus, an experienced
commander, was associated in the empire. But no skill or experience
could avail to retrieve the sinking power of Rome upon the Illyrian,
frontier. The Roman army was disorganized, panic-stricken, reduced to
skeleton battalions. Without an army, what could be done? And thus it
may really have been no blame to Gallus, that he made a treaty with the
Goths more degrading than any previous act in the long annals of Rome.
By the terms of this infamous bargain, they were allowed to carry off an
immense booty, amongst which was a long roll of distinguished prisoners;
and Cæsar himself it was--not any lieutenant or agent that might have
been afterwards disavowed--who volunteered to purchase their future
absence by an annual tribute. The very army which had brought their
emperor into the necessity of submitting to such abject concessions,
were the first to be offended with this natural result of their own
failures. Gallus was already ruined in public opinion, when further
accumulations arose to his disgrace. It was now supposed to have been
discovered, that the late dreadful defeat of Forum Terebronii was due to
his bad advice; and, as the young Hostilianus happened to die about this
time of a contagious disorder, Gallus was charged with his murder.
Even a ray of prosperity, which just now gleamed upon the Roman arms,
aggravated the disgrace of Gallus, and was instantly made the handle of
his ruin. Æmilianus, the governor of Moesia and Pannonia, inflicted some
check or defeat upon the Goths; and in the enthusiasm of sudden pride,
upon an occasion which contrasted so advantageously for himself with the
military conduct of Decius and Gallus, the soldiers of his own legion
raised Æmilianus to the purple. No time was to be lost. Summoned by
the troops, Æmilianus marched into Italy; and no sooner had he made his
appearance there, than the prætorian guards murdered the Emperor Gallus
and his son Volusianus, by way of confirming the election of Æmilianus.
The new emperor offered to secure the frontiers, both in the east and
on the Danube, from the incursions of the barbarians. This offer may
be regarded as thrown out for the conciliation of all classes in the
empire. But to the senate in particular he addressed a message, which
forcibly illustrates the political position of that body in those times.
Æmilianus proposed to resign the whole civil administration into the
hands of the senate, reserving to himself only the unenviable burthen of
the military interests. His hope was, that in this way making himself in
part the creation of the senate, he might strengthen his title against
competitors at Rome, whilst the entire military administration going on
under his own eyes, exclusively directed to that one object, would give
him some chance of defeating the hasty and tumultuary competitions
so apt to arise amongst the legions upon the frontier. We notice the
transaction chiefly as indicating the anomalous situation of the senate.
Without power in a proper sense, or no more, however, than the
indirect power of wealth, that ancient body retained an immense
_auctoritas_--that is, an influence built upon ancient reputation,
which, in their case, had the strength of a religious superstition in
all Italian minds. This influence the senators exerted with effect,
whenever the course of events had happened to reduce the power of the
army. And never did they make a more continuous and sustained effort for
retrieving their ancient power and place, together with the whole system
of the republic, than during the period at which we are now arrived.
From the time of Maximin, in fact, to the accession of Aurelian, the
senate perpetually interposed their credit and authority, like some
_Deus ex machinâ_ in the dramatic art. And if this one fact were
all that had survived of the public annals at this period, we might
sufficiently collect the situation of the two other parties in the
empire--the army and the imperator; the weakness and precarious tenure
of the one, and the anarchy of the other. And hence it is that we can
explain the hatred borne to the senate by vigorous emperors, such as
Aurelian, succeeding to a long course of weak and troubled reigns. Such
an emperor presumed in the senate, and not without reason, that same
spirit of domineering interference as ready to manifest itself, upon any
opportunity offered, against himself, which, in his earlier days, he
had witnessed so repeatedly in successful operation upon the fates and
prospects of others.

The situation indeed of the world--that is to say, of that great
centre of civilization, which, running round the Mediterranean in one
continuous belt of great breadth, still composed the Roman Empire, was
at this time most profoundly interesting. The crisis had arrived. In the
East, a new dynasty (the Sassanides) had remoulded ancient elements
into a new form, and breathed a new life into an empire, which else was
gradually becoming crazy from age, and which, at any rate, by losing
its unity, must have lost its vigor as an offensive power. Parthia was
languishing and drooping as an anti-Roman state, when the last of the
Arsacidæ expired. A perfect _Palingenesis_ was wrought by the restorer
of the Persian empire, which pretty nearly re-occupied (and gloried in
re-occupying) the very area that had once composed the empire of Cyrus.
Even this _Palingenesis_ might have terminated in a divided empire:
vigor might have been restored, but in the shape of a polyarchy, (such
as the Saxons established in England,) rather than a monarchy; and in
reality, at one moment that appeared to be a probable event. Now, had
this been the course of the revolution, an alliance with one of these
kingdoms would have tended to balance the hostility of another (as was
in fact the case when Alexander Severus saved himself from the Persian
power by a momentary alliance with Armenia.) But all the elements of
disorder had in that quarter re-combined themselves into severe unity:
and thus was Rome, upon her eastern frontier, laid open to a new power
of juvenile activity and vigor, just at the period when the languor of
the decaying Parthian had allowed the Roman discipline to fall into
a corresponding declension. Such was the condition of Rome upon her
oriental frontier. [Footnote: And it is a striking illustration of the
extent to which the revolution had gone, that, previously to the Persian
expedition of the last Gordian, Antioch, the Roman capital of Syria,
had been occupied by the enemy.] On the northern, it was much worse.
Precisely at the crisis of a great revolution in Asia, which demanded in
that quarter more than the total strength of the empire, and threatened
to demand it for ages to come, did the Goths, under their earliest
denomination of _Getæ_ with many other associate tribes, begin to push
with their horns against the northern gates of the empire: the whole
line of the Danube, and, pretty nearly about the same time, of the
Rhine, (upon which the tribes from Swabia, Bavaria, and Franconia, were
beginning to descend,) now became insecure; and these two rivers ceased
in effect to be the barriers of Rome. Taking a middle point of time
between the Parthian revolution and the fatal overthrow of Forum
Terebronii, we may fix upon the reign of Philip the Arab, [who
naturalized himself in Rome by the appellation of Marcus Julius,] as
the epoch from which the Roman empire, already sapped and undermined by
changes from within, began to give way, and to dilapidate from without.
And this reign dates itself in the series by those ever-memorable
secular or jubilee games, which celebrated the completion of the
thousandth year from the foundation of Rome. [Footnote: This Arab
emperor reigned about five years; and the jubilee celebration occurred
in his second year. Another circumstance gives importance to the
Arabian, that, according to one tradition, he was the first Christian
emperor. If so, it is singular that one of the bitterest persecutors of
Christianity should have been his immediate successor--Decius.]

Resuming our sketch of the Imperial history, we may remark the natural
embarrassment which must have possessed the senate, when two candidates
for the purple were equally earnest in appealing to them, and their
deliberate choice, as the best foundation for a valid election. Scarcely
had the ground been cleared for Æmilianus, by the murder of Gallus and
his son, when Valerian, a Roman senator, of such eminent merit, and
confessedly so much the foremost noble in all the qualities essential to
the very delicate and comprehensive functions of a Censor, [Footnote:
It has proved a most difficult problem, in the hands of all speculators
upon the imperial history, to fathom the purposes, or throw any light
upon the purposes, of the Emperor Decius, in attempting the revival
of the ancient but necessarily obsolete office of a public censorship.
Either it was an act of pure verbal pedantry, or a mere titular
decoration of honor, (as if a modern prince should create a person
Arch-Grand-Elector, with no objects assigned to his electing faculty,)
or else, if it really meant to revive the old duties of the censorship,
and to assign the very same field for the exercise of those duties, it
must be viewed as the very grossest practical anachronism that has ever
been committed. We mean by an anachronism, in common usage, that sort of
blunder when a man ascribes to one age the habits, customs, or generally
the characteristics of another. This, however, may be a mere lapse
of memory, as to a matter of fact, and implying nothing at all
discreditable to the understanding, but only that a man has shifted the
boundaries of chronology a little this way or that; as if, for example,
a writer should speak of printed books as existing at the day of
Agincourt, or of artillery as existing in the first Crusade, here would
be an error, but a venial one. A far worse kind of anachronism, though
rarely noticed as such, is where a writer ascribes sentiments and modes
of thought incapable of co-existing with the sort or the degree of
civilization then attained, or otherwise incompatible with the structure
of society in the age or the country assigned. For instance, in
Southey's Don Roderick there is a cast of sentiment in the Gothic
king's remorse and contrition of heart, which has struck many readers as
utterly unsuitable to the social and moral development of that age,
and redolent of modern methodism. This, however, we mention only as an
illustration, without wishing to hazard an opinion upon the justice
of that criticism. But even such an anachronism is less startling and
extravagant when it is confined to an ideal representation of things,
than where it is practically embodied and brought into play amongst the
realities of life. What would be thought of a man who should attempt, in
1833, to revive the ancient office of _Fool_, as it existed down to
the reign, suppose, of our Henry VIII. in England? Yet the error of the
Emperor Decius was far greater, if he did in sincerity and good faith
believe that the Rome of his times was amenable to that license of
unlimited correction, and of interference with private affairs, which
republican freedom and simplicity had once conceded to the censor. In
reality, the ancient censor, in some parts of his office, was neither
more nor less than a compendious legislator. Acts of attainder, divorce
bills, &c., illustrate the case in England; they are cases of law,
modified to meet the case of an individual; and the censor, having a
sort of equity jurisdiction, was intrusted with discretionary powers
for reviewing, revising, and amending, _pro re nata_, whatever in the
private life of a Roman citizen seemed, to his experienced eye, alien
to the simplicity of an austere republic; whatever seemed vicious
or capable of becoming vicious, according to their rude notions of
political economy; and, generally, whatever touched the interests of
the commonwealth, though not falling within the general province
of legislation, either because it might appear undignified in its
circumstances, or too narrow in its range of operation for a public
anxiety, or because considerations of delicacy and prudence might
render it unfit for a public scrutiny. Take one case, drawn from actual
experience, as an illustration: A Roman nobleman, under one of the early
emperors, had thought fit, by way of increasing his income, to retire
into rural lodgings, or into some small villa, whilst his splendid
mansion in Rome was let to a rich tenant. That a man, who wore the
_laticlave_, (which in practical effect of splendor we may consider
equal to the ribbon and star of a modern order,) should descend to such
a degrading method of raising money, was felt as a scandal to the whole
nobility. [Footnote: This feeling still exists in France. "One winter,"
says the author of _The English Army in France_, vol. ii. p. 106-7,
"our commanding officer's wife formed the project of hiring the chateau
during the absence of the owner; but a more profound insult could not
have been offered to a Chevalier de St. Louis. Hire his house! What
could these people take him for? A sordid wretch who would stoop to make
money by such means? They ought to be ashamed of themselves. He could
never respect an Englishman again." "And yet," adds the writer, "this
gentleman (had an officer been billeted there) would have _sold_ him a
bottle of wine out of his cellar, or a billet of wood from his stack,
or an egg from his hen-house, at a profit of fifty per cent., not only
without scruple, but upon no other terms. It was as common as ordering
wine at a tavern, to call the servant of any man's establishment where
we happened to be quartered, and demand an account of the cellar, as
well as the price of the wine we selected!" This feeling existed, and
perhaps to the same extent, two centuries ago, in England. Not only did
the aristocracy think it a degradation to act the part of landlord with
respect to their own houses, but also, except in select cases, to
act that of tenant. Thus, the first Lord Brooke, (the famous Fulke
Greville,) writing to inform his next neighbor, a woman of rank, that
the house she occupied had been purchased by a London citizen, confesses
his fears that he shall in consequence lose so valuable a neighbor; for,
doubtless, he adds, your ladyship will not remain as tenant to "such a
fellow." And yet the man had notoriously held the office of Lord Mayor,
which made him, for the time, _Right Honorable_. The Italians of this
day make no scruple to let off the whole, or even part, of their fine
mansions to strangers.]

Yet what could be done? To have interfered with his conduct by an
express law, would be to infringe the sacred rights of property, and
to say, in effect, that a man should not do what he would with his own.
This would have been a remedy far worse than the evil to which it was
applied; nor could it have been possible so to shape the principle of
a law, as not to make it far more comprehensive than was desired. The
senator's trespass was in a matter of decorum; but the law would have
trespassed on the first principles of justice. Here, then, was a case
within the proper jurisdiction of the censor; he took notice, in his
public report, of the senator's error; or probably, before coming to
that extremity, he admonished him privately on the subject. Just as, in
England, had there been such an officer, he would have reproved those
men of rank who mounted the coach-box, who extended a public patronage
to the "fancy," or who rode their own horses at a race. Such a reproof,
however, unless it were made practically operative, and were powerfully
supported by the whole body of the aristocracy, would recoil upon its
author as a piece of impertinence, and would soon be resented as an
unwarrantable liberty taken with private rights; the censor would be
kicked, or challenged to private combat, according to the taste of the
parties aggrieved. The office is clearly in this dilemma: if the censor
is supported by the state, then he combines in his own person both
legislative and executive functions, and possesses a power which is
frightfully irresponsible; if, on the other hand, he is left to such
support as he can find in the prevailing spirit of manners, and the old
traditionary veneration for his sacred character, he stands very much
in the situation of a priesthood, which has great power or none at all,
according to the condition of a country in moral and religious feeling,
coupled with the more or less primitive state of manners. How, then,
with any rational prospect of success, could Decius attempt the revival
of an office depending so entirely on moral supports, in an age when
all those supports were withdrawn? The prevailing spirit of manners was
hardly fitted to sustain even a toleration of such an office; and as to
the traditionary veneration for the sacred character, from long disuse
of its practical functions, that probably was altogether extinct. If
these considerations are plain and intelligible even to us, by the men
of that day they must have been felt with a degree of force that could
leave no room for doubt or speculation on the matter. How was it, then,
that the emperor only should have been blind to such general light?

In the absence of all other, even plausible, solutions of this
difficulty, we shall state our own theory of the matter. Decius, as is
evident from his fierce persecution of the Christians, was not disposed
to treat Christianity with indifference, under any form which it might
assume, or however masked. Yet there were quarters in which it lurked
not liable to the ordinary modes of attack. Christianity was creeping up
with inaudible steps into high places,--nay, into the very highest. The
immediate predecessor of Decius upon the throne, Philip the Arab, was
known to be a disciple of the new faith; and amongst the nobles of Rome,
through the females and the slaves, that faith had spread its roots in
every direction. Some secrecy, however, attached to the profession of a
religion so often proscribed. Who should presume to tear away the mask
which prudence or timidity had taken up? A _delator_, or professional
informer, was an infamous character. To deal with the noble and
illustrious, the descendants of the Marcelli and the Gracchi, there must
be nothing less than a great state officer, supported by the censor
and the senate, having an unlimited privilege of scrutiny and censure,
authorized to inflict the brand of infamy for offences not challenged
by express law, and yet emanating from an elder institution, familiar
to the days of reputed liberty. Such an officer was the censor; and such
were the antichristian purposes of Decius in his revival.] that Decius
had revived that office expressly in his behalf, entered Italy at the
head of the army from Gaul. He had been summoned to his aid by the late
emperor, Gallus; but, arriving too late for his support, he determined
to avenge him. Both Æmilianus and Valerian recognised the authority of
the senate, and professed to act under that sanction; but it was
the soldiery who cut the knot, as usual, by the sword. Æmilianus was
encamped at Spoleto; but as the enemy drew near, his soldiers, shrinking
no doubt from a contest with veteran troops, made their peace by
murdering the new emperor, and Valerian was elected in his stead. This
prince was already an old man at the time of his election; but he
lived long enough to look back upon the day of his inauguration as the
blackest in his life. Memorable were the calamities which fell upon
himself, and upon the empire, during his reign. He began by associating
to himself his son Gallienus; partly, perhaps, for his own relief,
partly to indulge the senate in their steady plan of dividing the
imperial authority. The two emperors undertook the military defence of
the empire, Gallienus proceeding to the German frontier, Valerian to
the eastern. Under Gallienus, the Franks began first to make themselves
heard of. Breaking into Gaul they passed through that country and Spain;
captured Tarragona in their route; crossed over to Africa, and conquered
Mauritania. At the same time, the Alemanni, who had been in motion since
the time of Caracalla, broke into Lombardy, across the Rhætian Alps.
The senate, left without aid from either emperor, were obliged to make
preparations for the common defence against this host of barbarians.
Luckily, the very magnitude of the enemy's success, by overloading him
with booty, made it his interest to retire without fighting; and the
degraded senate, hanging upon the traces of their retiring footsteps,
without fighting, or daring to fight, claimed the honors of a victory.
Even then, however, they did more than was agreeable to the jealousies
of Gallienus, who, by an edict, publicly rebuked their presumption, and
forbade them in future to appear amongst the legions, or to exercise any
military functions. He himself, meanwhile, could devise no better way of
providing for the public security, than by marrying the daughter of his
chief enemy, the king of the Marcomanni. On this side of Europe, the
barbarians were thus quieted for the present; but the Goths of the
Ukraine, in three marauding expeditions of unprecedented violence,
ravaged the wealthy regions of Asia Minor, as well as the islands of the
Archipelago; and at length, under the guidance of deserters, landed in
the port of the Pyræus. Advancing from this point, after sacking Athens
and the chief cities of Greece, they marched upon Epirus, and began
to threaten Italy. But the defection at this crisis of a conspicuous
chieftain, and the burden of their booty, made these wild marauders
anxious to provide for a safe retreat; the imperial commanders in Moesia
listened eagerly to their offers: and it set the seal to the dishonors
of the state, that, after having traversed so vast a range of territory
almost without resistance, these blood-stained brigands were now
suffered to retire under the very guardianship of those whom they had
just visited with military execution.

Such were the terms upon which the Emperor Gallienus purchased a brief
respite from his haughty enemies. For the moment, however, he _did_
enjoy security. Far otherwise was the destiny of his unhappy father.
Sapor now ruled in Persia; the throne of Armenia had vainly striven to
maintain its independency against his armies, and the daggers of his
hired assassins. This revolution, which so much enfeebled the Roman
means of war, exactly in that proportion increased the necessity for it.
War, and that instantly, seemed to offer the only chance for maintaining
the Roman name or existence in Asia, Carrhæ and Nisibis, the two potent
fortresses in Mesopotamia, had fallen; and the Persian arms were
now triumphant on both banks of the Euphrates. Valerian was not of a
character to look with indifference upon such a scene, terminated by
such a prospect; prudence and temerity, fear and confidence, all spoke
a common language in this great emergency; and Valerian marched towards
the Euphrates with a fixed purpose of driving the enemy beyond that
river. By whose mismanagement the records of history do not enable us
to say, some think of Macrianus, the prætorian prefect, some of Valerian
himself, but doubtless by the treachery of guides co-operating with
errors in the general, the Roman army was entangled in marshy grounds;
partial actions followed, and skirmishes of cavalry, in which the Romans
became direfully aware of their situation; retreat was cut off, to
advance was impossible; and to fight was now found to be without hope.
In these circumstances they offered to capitulate. But the haughty Sapor
would hear of nothing but unconditional surrender; and to that course
the unhappy emperor submitted. Various traditions [Footnote: Some of
these traditions have been preserved, which represent Sapor as using his
imperial captive for his stepping-stone, or _anabathrum_, in mounting
his horse. Others go farther, and pretend that Sapor actually flayed his
unhappy prisoner whilst yet alive. The temptation to these stories was
perhaps found in the craving for the marvellous, and in the desire to
make the contrast more striking between the two extremes in Valerian's
life.] have been preserved by history concerning the fate of Valerian:
all agree that he died in misery and captivity; but some have
circumstantiated this general statement by features of excessive misery
and degradation, which possibly were added afterwards by scenical
romancers, in order to heighten the interest of the tale, or by ethical
writers, in order to point and strengthen the moral. Gallienus now ruled
alone, except as regarded the restless efforts of insurgents, thirty
of whom are said to have arisen in his single reign. This, however, is
probably an exaggeration. Nineteen such rebels are mentioned by name; of
whom the chief were Calpurnius Piso, a Roman senator; Tetricus, a man
of rank who claimed a descent from Pompey, Crassus, and even from
Numa Pompilius, and maintained himself some time in Gaul and Spain;
Trebellianus, who founded a republic of robbers in Isauria which
survived himself by centuries; and Odenathus, the Syrian. Others were
mere _Terra filii,_ or adventurers, who flourished and decayed in a few
days or weeks, of whom the most remarkable was a working armorer
named Marius. Not one of the whole number eventually prospered, except
Odenathus; and he, though originally a rebel, yet, in consideration of
services performed against Persia, was suffered to retain his power,
and to transmit his kingdom of Palmyra to his widow Zenobia. He was even
complimented with the title of Augustus. All the rest perished. Their
rise, however, and local prosperity at so many different points of the
empire, showed the distracted condition of the state, and its internal
weakness. That again proclaimed its external peril. No other cause had
called forth this diffusive spirit of insurrection than the general
consciousness, so fatally warranted, of the debility which had
emasculated the government, and its incompetency to deal vigorously with
the public enemies. [Footnote: And this incompetency was _permanently_
increased by rebellions that were brief and fugitive: for each insurgent
almost necessarily maintained himself for the moment by spoliations and
robberies which left lasting effects behind them; and too often he was
tempted to ally himself with some foreign enemy amongst the barbarians,
and perhaps to introduce him into the heart of the empire.] The very
granaries of Rome, Sicily and Egypt, were the seats of continued
distractions; in Alexandria, the second city of the empire, there was
even a civil war which lasted for twelve years. Weakness, dissension,
and misery were spread like a cloud over the whole face of the empire.

The last of the rebels who directed his rebellion personally against
Gallienus was Aureolus. Passing the Rhætian Alps, this leader sought out
and defied the emperor. He was defeated, and retreated upon Milan; but
Gallienus, in pursuing him, was lured into an ambuscade, and perished
from the wound inflicted by an archer. With his dying breath he is said
to have recommended Claudius to the favor of the senate; and at all
events Claudius it was who succeeded. Scarcely was the new emperor
installed, before he was summoned to a trial not only arduous in itself,
but terrific by the very name of the enemy. The Goths of the Ukraine,
in a new armament of six thousand vessels, had again descended by the
Bosphorus into the south, and had sat down before Thessalonica,
the capitol of Macedonia. Claudius marched against them with the
determination to vindicate the Roman name and honor: "Know," said he,
writing to the senate, "that 320,000 Goths have set foot upon the Roman
soil. Should I conquer them, your gratitude will be my reward. Should
I fall, do not forget who it is that I have succeeded; and that the
republic is exhausted." No sooner did the Goths hear of his approach,
than, with transports of ferocious joy, they gave up the siege, and
hurried to annihilate the last pillar of the empire. The mighty battle
which ensued, neither party seeking to evade it, took place at Naissus.
At one time the legions were giving way, when suddenly, by some happy
manoeuvre of the emperor, a Roman corps found its way to the rear of the
enemy. The Goths gave way, and their defeat was total. According to
most accounts they left 50,000 dead upon the field. The campaign still
lingered, however, at other points, until at last the emperor succeeded
in driving back the relics of the Gothic host into the fastnesses of
the Balkan; and there the greater part of them died of hunger and
pestilence. These great services performed, within two years from his
accession to the throne, by the rarest of fates the Emperor Claudius
died in his bed at Sirmium, the capitol of Pannonia. His brother
Quintilius who had a great command at Aquileia, immediately assumed
the purple; but his usurpation lasted only seventeen days, for the last
emperor, with a single eye to the public good, had recommended Aurelian
as his successor, guided by his personal knowledge of that general's
strategic qualities. The army of the Danube confirmed the appointment;
and Quintilius committed suicide. Aurelian was of the same harsh and
forbidding character as the Emperor Severus: he had, however, the
qualities demanded by the times; energetic and not amiable princes were
required by the exigences of the state. The hydra-headed Goths were
again in the field on the Illyrian quarter: Italy itself was invaded by
the Alemanni; and Tetricus, the rebel, still survived as a monument of
the weakness of Gallienus. All these enemies were speedily repressed, or
vanquished, by Aurelian. But it marks the real declension of the empire,
a declension which no personal vigor in the emperor was now sufficient
to disguise, that, even in the midst of victory, Aurelian found it
necessary to make a formal surrender, by treaty, of that Dacia which
Trajan had united with so much ostentation to the empire. Europe was
now again in repose; and Aurelian found himself at liberty to apply his
powers as a reorganizer and restorer to the East. In that quarter of the
world a marvellous revolution had occurred. The little oasis of Palmyra,
from a Roman colony, had grown into the leading province of a great
empire. This island of the desert, together with Syria and Egypt, formed
an independent monarchy under the sceptre of Zenobia. [Footnote: Zenobia
is complimented by all historians for her magnanimity; but with no
foundation in truth. Her first salutation to Aurelian was a specimen
of abject flattery; and her last _public_ words were evidences of the
basest treachery in giving up her generals, and her chief counsellor
Longinus, to the vengeance of the ungenerous enemy.] After two battles
lost in Syria, Zenobia retreated to Palmyra. With great difficulty
Aurelian pursued her; and with still greater difficulty he pressed the
siege of Palmyra. Zenobia looked for relief from Persia; but at that
moment Sapor died, and the Queen of Palmyra fled upon a dromedary,
but was pursued and captured. Palmyra surrendered and was spared; but
unfortunately, with a folly which marks the haughty spirit of the place
unfitted to brook submission, scarcely had the conquering army retired
when a tumult arose, and the Roman garrison was slaughtered. Little
knowledge could those have had of Aurelian's character, who tempted him
to acts but too welcome to his cruel nature by such an outrage as this.
The news overtook the emperor on the Hellespont. Instantly, without
pause, "like Até hot from hell," Aurelian retraced his steps--reached
the guilty city--and consigned it, with all its population, to that
utter destruction from which it has never since arisen. The energetic
administration of Aurelian had now restored the empire--not to its lost
vigor, that was impossible--but to a condition of repose. That was a
condition more agreeable to the empire than to the emperor. Peace was
hateful to Aurelian; and he sought for war, where it could seldom be
sought in vain, upon the Persian frontier. But he was not destined
to reach the Euphrates; and it is worthy of notice, as a providential
ordinance, that his own unmerciful nature was the ultimate cause of his
fate. Anticipating the emperor's severity in punishing some errors of
his own, Mucassor, a general officer in whom Aurelian placed especial
confidence, assassinated him between Byzantium and Heraclea. An
interregnum of eight months succeeded, during which there occurred a
contest of a memorable nature. Some historians have described it as
strange and surprising. To us, on the contrary, it seems that no contest
could be more natural. Heretofore the great strife had been in what way
to secure the reversion or possession of that great dignity; whereas now
the rivalship lay in declining it. But surely such a competition had
in it, under the circumstances of the empire, little that can justly
surprise us. Always a post of danger, and so regularly closed by
assassination, that in a course of two centuries there are hardly to be
found three or four cases of exception, the imperatorial dignity had
now become burdened with a public responsibility which exacted great
military talents, and imposed a perpetual and personal activity.
Formerly, if the emperor knew himself to be surrounded with assassins,
he might at least make his throne, so long as he enjoyed it, the couch
of a voluptuary. The "_ave imperator!_" was then the summons, if to
the supremacy in passive danger, so also to the supremacy in power, and
honor, and enjoyment. But now it was a summons to never-ending
tumults and alarms; an injunction to that sort of vigilance without
intermission, which, even from the poor sentinel, is exacted only when
on duty. Not Rome, but the frontier; not the _aurea domus,_ but a camp,
was the imperial residence. Power and rank, whilst in that residence,
could be had in no larger measure by Cæsar _as_ Cæsar, than by the
same individual as a military commander-in-chief; and, as to enjoyment,
_that_ for the Roman imperator was now extinct. Rest there could be none
for him. Battle was the tenure by which he held his office; and beyond
the range of his trumpet's blare, his sceptre was a broken reed. The
office of Cæsar at this time resembled the situation (as it is sometimes
described in romances) of a knight who has achieved the favor of some
capricious lady, with the present possession of her castle and ample
domains, but which he holds under the known and accepted condition
of meeting all challenges whatsoever offered at the gate by wandering
strangers, and also of jousting at any moment with each and all amongst
the inmates of the castle, as often as a wish may arise to benefit by
the chances in disputing his supremacy.

It is a circumstance, moreover, to be noticed in the aspect of the
Roman monarchy at this period, that the pressure of the evils we are
now considering, applied to this particular age of the empire beyond
all others, as being an age of transition from a greater to an inferior
power. Had the power been either greater or conspicuously less, in that
proportion would the pressure have been easier, or none at all. Being
greater, for example, the danger would have been repelled to a distance
so great that mere remoteness would have disarmed its terrors, or
otherwise it would have been violently overawed. Being less, on the
other hand, and less in an eminent degree, it would have disposed all
parties, as it did at an after period, to regular and formal compromises
in the shape of fixed annual tributes. At present the policy of the
barbarians along the vast line of the northern frontier, was, to
tease and irritate the provinces which they were not entirely able,
or prudentially unwilling, to dismember. Yet, as the almost
annual irruptions were at every instant ready to be converted into
_coup-de-mains_ upon Aquileia--upon Verona--or even upon Rome itself,
unless vigorously curbed at the outset,--each emperor at this period
found himself under the necessity of standing in the attitude of a
champion or propugnator on the frontier line of his territory--ready
for all comers--and with a pretty certain prospect of having one pitched
battle at the least to fight in every successive summer. There were
nations abroad at this epoch in Europe who did not migrate occasionally,
or occasionally project themselves upon the civilized portion of the
globe, but who made it their steady regular occupation to do so, and
lived for no other purpose. For seven hundred years the Roman Republic
might be styled a republic militant: for about one century further it
was an empire triumphant; and now, long retrograde, it had reached that
point at which again, but in a different sense, it might be styled an
empire militant. Originally it had militated for glory and power; now
its militancy was for mere existence. War was again the trade of Rome,
as it had been once before: but in that earlier period war had been its
highest glory now it was its dire necessity.

Under this analysis of the Roman condition, need we wonder, with
the crowd of unreflecting historians, that the senate, at the era of
Aurelian's death, should dispute amongst each other--not, as once, for
the possession of the sacred purple, but for the luxury and safety of
declining it? The sad pre-eminence was finally imposed upon Tacitus, a
senator who traced his descent from the historian of that name, who had
reached an age of seventy--five years, and who possessed a fortune of
three millions sterling. Vainly did the agitated old senator open his
lips to decline the perilous honor; five hundred voices insisted upon
the necessity of his compliance; and thus, as a foreign writer observes,
was the descendant of him, whose glory it had been to signalize himself
as the hater of despotism, under the absolute necessity of becoming, in
his own person, a despot.

The aged senator then was compelled to be emperor, and forced, in spite
of his vehement reluctance, to quit the comforts of a palace, which he
was never to revisit, for the hardships of a distant camp. His first
act was strikingly illustrative of the Roman condition, as we have just
described it. Aurelian had attempted to disarm one set of enemies by
turning the current of their fury upon another. The Alani were in search
of plunder, and strongly disposed to obtain it from Roman provinces.
"But no," said Aurelian; "if you do that, I shall unchain my legions
upon you. Be better advised: keep those excellent dispositions of mind,
and that admirable taste for plunder, until you come whither I will
conduct you. Then discharge your fury, and welcome; besides which, I
will pay you wages for your immediate abstinence; and on the other side
the Euphrates you shall pay yourselves." Such was the outline of the
contract; and the Alans had accordingly held themselves in readiness
to accompany Aurelian from Europe to his meditated Persian campaign.
Meantime, that emperor had perished by treason; and the Alani were still
waiting for his successor on the throne to complete his engagements with
themselves, as being of necessity the successor also to his wars and to
his responsibilities. It happened, from the state of the empire, as
we have sketched it above, that Tacitus really _did_ succeed to the
military plans of Aurelian. The Persian expedition was ordained to go
forward; and Tacitus began, as a preliminary step in that expedition, to
look about for his good allies the barbarians. Where might they be,
and how employed? Naturally, they had long been weary of waiting. The
Persian booty might be good after _its_ kind; but it was far away; and,
_en attendant_, Roman booty was doubtless good after _its_ kind. And
so, throughout the provinces of Cappadocia, Pontus, &c., far as the eye
could stretch, nothing was to be seen but cities and villages in flames.
The Roman army hungered and thirsted to be unmuzzled and slipped upon
these false friends. But this, for the present, Tacitus would not
allow. He began by punctually fulfilling all the terms of Aurelian's
contract,--a measure which barbarians inevitably construed into the
language of fear. But then came the retribution. Having satisfied public
justice, the emperor now thought of vengeance: he unchained his legions:
a brief space of time sufficed for a long course of vengeance: and
through every outlet of Asia Minor the Alani fled from the wrath of the
Roman soldier. Here, however, terminated the military labors of Tacitus:
he died at Tyana in Cappadocia, as some say, from the effects of
the climate of the Caucasus, co-operating with irritations from the
insolence of the soldiery; but, as Zosimus and Zonaras expressly assure
us, under the murderous hands of his own troops. His brother Florianus
at first usurped the purple, by the aid of the Illyrian army; but the
choice of other armies, afterwards confirmed by the senate, settled upon
Probus, a general already celebrated under Aurelian. The two competitors
drew near to each other for the usual decision by the sword, when the
dastardly supporters of Florian offered up their chosen prince as a
sacrifice to his antagonist. Probus, settled in his seat, addressed
himself to the regular business of those times,--to the reduction
of insurgent provinces, and the liberation of others from hostile
molestations. Isauria and Egypt he visited in the character of a
conqueror, Gaul in the character of a deliverer. From the Gaulish
provinces he chased in succession the Franks, the Burgundians, and the
Lygians. He pursued the intruders far into their German thickets; and
nine of the native German princes came spontaneously into his camp,
subscribed such conditions as he thought fit to dictate, and complied
with his requisitions of tribute in horses and provisions. This,
however, is a delusive gleam of Roman energy, little corresponding
with the true condition of the Roman power, and entirely due to the
_personal_ qualities of Probus. Probus himself showed his sense of the
true state of affairs, by carrying a stone wall, of considerable height,
from the Danube to the Neckar. He made various attempts also to effect
a better distribution of barbarous tribes, by dislocating their
settlements, and making extensive translations of their clans, according
to the circumstances of those times. These arrangements, however,
suggested often by short-sighted views, and carried into effect by mere
violence, were sometimes defeated visibly at the time, and, doubtless,
in very few cases accomplished the ends proposed. In one instance, where
a party of Franks had been transported into the Asiatic province of
Pontus, as a column of defence against the intrusive Alans, being
determined to revisit their own country, they swam the Hellespont,
landed on the coasts of Asia Minor and of Greece, plundered Syracuse,
steered for the Straits of Gibraltar, sailed along the shores of Spain
and Gaul, passing finally through the English Channel and the German
Ocean, right onwards to the Frisic and Batavian coasts, where they
exultingly rejoined their exulting friends. Meantime, all the energy
and military skill of Probus could not save him from the competition of
various rivals. Indeed, it must then have been felt, as by us who look
back on those times it is now felt, that, amidst so continued a series
of brief reigns, interrupted by murders, scarcely any idea could arise
answering to our modern ideas of treason and usurpation. For the ideas
of fealty and allegiance, as to a sacred and anointed monarch, could
have no time to take root. Candidates for the purple must have been
viewed rather as military rivals than as traitors to the reigning
Cæsar. And hence one reason for the slight resistance which was often
experienced by the seducers of armies. Probus, however, as accident in
his case ordered it, subdued all his personal opponents,--Saturninus in
the East, Proculus and Bonoses in Gaul. For these victories he triumphed
in the year 281. But his last hour was even then at hand. One point of
his military discipline, which he brought back from elder days, was,
to suffer no idleness in his camps. He it was who, by military labor,
transferred to Gaul and to Hungary the Italian vine, to the great
indignation of the Italian monopolist. The culture of vineyards, the
laying of military roads, the draining of marshes, and similar labors,
perpetually employed the hands of his stubborn and contumacious troops.
On some work of this nature the army happened to be employed near
Sirmium, and Probus was looking on from a tower, when a sudden frenzy of
disobedience seized upon the men: a party of the mutineers ran up to the
emperor, and with a hundred wounds laid him instantly dead. We are told
by some writers that the army was immediately seized with remorse for
its own act; which, if truly reported, rather tends to confirm the
image, otherwise impressed upon us, of the relations between the army
and Cæsar as pretty closely corresponding with those between some fierce
wild beast and its keeper; the keeper, if not uniformly vigilant as an
Argus, is continually liable to fall a sacrifice to the wild instincts
of the brute, mastering at intervals the reverence and fear under which
it has been habitually trained. In this case, both the murdering impulse
and the remorse seem alike the effects of a brute instinct, and to have
arisen under no guidance of rational purpose or reflection. The person
who profited by this murder was Carus, the captain of the guard, a
man of advanced years, and a soldier, both by experience and by his
propensities. He was proclaimed emperor by the army; and on this
occasion there was no further reference to the senate, than by a dry
statement of the facts for its information. Troubling himself little
about the approbation of a body not likely in any way to affect his
purposes (which were purely martial, and adapted to the tumultuous
state of the empire), Carus made immediate preparations for pursuing the
Persian expedition,--so long promised, and so often interrupted. Having
provided for the security of the Illyrian frontier by a bloody victory
over the Sarmatians, of whom we now hear for the first time, Carus
advanced towards the Euphrates; and from the summit of a mountain
he pointed the eyes of his eager army upon the rich provinces of the
Persian empire. Varanes, the successor of Artaxerxes, vainly endeavored
to negotiate a peace. From some unknown cause, the Persian armies were
not at this juncture disposable against Carus: it has been conjectured
by some writers that they were engaged in an Indian war. Carus, it is
certain, met with little resistance. He insisted on having the Roman
supremacy acknowledged as a preliminary to any treaty; and, having
threatened to make Persia as bare as his own skull, he is supposed
to have kept his word with regard to Mesopotamia. The great cities of
Ctesiphon and Seleucia he took; and vast expectations were formed at
Rome of the events which stood next in succession, when, on Christmas
day, 283, a sudden and mysterious end overtook Carus and his victorious
advance. The story transmitted to Rome was, that a great storm, and
a sudden darkness, had surprised the camp of Carus; that the emperor,
previously ill, and reposing in his tent, was obscured from sight; that
at length a cry had arisen,--"The emperor is dead!" and that, at the
same moment, the imperial tent had taken fire. The fire was traced
to the confusion of his attendants; and this confusion was imputed by
themselves to grief for their master's death. In all this it is easy
to read pretty circumstantially a murder committed on the emperor by
corrupted servants, and an attempt afterwards to conceal the indications
of murder by the ravages of fire. The report propagated through the
army, and at that time received with credit, was, that Carus had
been struck by lightning: and that omen, according to the Roman
interpretation, implied a necessity of retiring from the expedition. So
that, apparently, the whole was a bloody intrigue, set on foot for the
purpose of counteracting the emperor's resolution to prosecute the war.
His son Numerian succeeded to the rank of emperor by the choice of the
army. But the mysterious faction of murderers were still at work. After
eight months' march from the Tigris to the Thracian Bosphorus, the army
halted at Chalcedon. At this point of time a report arose suddenly,
that the Emperor Numerian was dead. The impatience of the soldiery would
brook no uncertainty: they rushed to the spot; satisfied themselves of
the fact; and, loudly denouncing as the murderer Aper, the captain of
the guard, committed him to custody, and assigned to Dioclesian, whom
at the same time they invested with the supreme power, the duty of
investigating the case. Dioclesian acquitted himself of this task in
a very summary way, by passing his sword through the captain before he
could say a word in his defence. It seems that Dioclesian, having been
promised the empire by a prophetess as soon as he should have killed a
wild boar [Aper], was anxious to realize the omen. The whole proceeding
has been taxed with injustice so manifest, as not even to seek a
disguise. Meantime, it should be remembered that, _first,_ Aper, as
the captain of the guard, was answerable for the emperor's safety;
_secondly,_ that his anxiety to profit by the emperor's murder was a
sure sign that he had participated in that act; and, _thirdly,_ that the
assent of the soldiery to the open and public act of Dioclesian, implies
a conviction on their part of Aper's guilt. Here let us pause, having
now arrived at the fourth and last group of the Cæsars, to notice the
changes which had been wrought by time, co-operating with political
events, in the very nature and constitution of the imperial office.

If it should unfortunately happen, that the palace of the Vatican, with
its thirteen thousand [Footnote: "_Thirteen thousand chambers_."--The
number of the chambers in this prodigious palace is usually estimated
at that amount. But Lady Miller, who made particular inquiries on
this subject, ascertained that the total amount, including cellars and
closets, capable of receiving a bed, was fifteen thousand.] chambers,
were to take fire--for a considerable space of time the fire would be
retarded by the mere enormity of extent which it would have to traverse.
But there would come at length a critical moment, at which the maximum
of the retarding effect having been attained, the bulk and volume of the
flaming mass would thenceforward assist the flames in the rapidity of
their progress. Such was the effect upon the declension of the Roman
empire from the vast extent of its territory. For a very long period
that very extent, which finally became the overwhelming cause of its
ruin, served to retard and to disguise it. A small encroachment, made
at any one point upon the integrity of the empire, was neither much
regarded at Rome, nor perhaps in and for itself much deserved to be
regarded. But a very narrow belt of encroachments, made upon almost
every part of so enormous a circumference, was sufficient of itself
to compose something of an antagonist force. And to these external
dilapidations, we must add the far more important dilapidations from
within, affecting all the institutions of the State, and all the forces,
whether moral or political, which had originally raised it or maintained
it. Causes which had been latent in the public arrangements ever since
the time of Augustus, and had been silently preying upon its vitals, had
now reached a height which would no longer brook concealment. The fire
which had smouldered through generations had broken out at length
into an open conflagration. Uproar and disorder, and the anarchy of a
superannuated empire, strong only to punish and impotent to defend, were
at this time convulsing the provinces in every point of the compass.
Rome herself had been menaced repeatedly. And a still more awful
indication of the coming storm had been felt far to the south of Rome.
One long wave of the great German deluge had stretched beyond the
Pyrenees and the Pillars of Hercules, to the very soil of ancient
Carthage. Victorious banners were already floating on the margin of the
Great Desert, and they were not the banners of Cæsar. Some vigorous hand
was demanded at this moment, or else the funeral knell of Rome was on
the point of sounding. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that,
had the imbecile Carinus (the brother of Numerian) succeeded to the
command of the Roman armies at this time, or any other than Dioclesian,
the empire of the west would have fallen to pieces within the next ten

Dioclesian was doubtless that man of iron whom the times demanded; and
a foreign writer has gone so far as to class him amongst the greatest
of men, if he were not even himself the greatest. But the position of
Dioclesian was remarkable beyond all precedent, and was alone sufficient
to prevent his being the greatest of men, by making it necessary that
he should be the most selfish. For the case stood thus: If Rome were in
danger, much more so was Cæsar. If the condition of the empire were such
that hardly any energy or any foresight was adequate to its defence, for
the emperor, on the other hand, there was scarcely a possibility that
he should escape destruction. The chances were in an overbalance against
the empire; but for the emperor there was no chance at all. He shared in
all the hazards of the empire; and had others so peculiarly pointed
at himself, that his assassination was now become as much a matter of
certain calculation, as seed-time or harvest, summer or winter, or any
other revolution of the seasons. The problem, therefore, for Dioclesian
was a double one,--so to provide for the defence and maintenance of
the empire, as simultaneously (and, if possible, through the very same
institution) to provide for the personal security of Cæsar. This problem
he solved, in some imperfect degree, by the only expedient perhaps open
to him in that despotism, and in those times. But it is remarkable,
that, by the revolution which he effected, the office of Roman Imperator
was completely altered, and Cæsar became henceforwards an Oriental
Sultan or Padishah. Augustus, when moulding for his future purposes
the form and constitution of that supremacy which he had obtained by
inheritance and by arms, proceeded with so much caution and prudence,
that even the style and title of his office was discussed in council as
a matter of the first moment. The principle of his policy was to absorb
into his own functions all those offices which conferred any real power
to balance or to control his own. For this reason he appropriated the
tribunitian power; because that was a popular and representative office,
which, as occasions arose, would have given some opening to democratic
influences. But the consular office he left untouched; because all its
power was transferred to the imperator, by the entire command of
the army, and by the new organization of the provincial governments.
[Footnote: In no point of his policy was the cunning or the sagacity
of Augustus so much displayed, as in his treaty of partition with the
senate, which settled the distribution of the provinces, and their
future administration. Seeming to take upon himself all the trouble
and hazard, he did in effect appropriate all the power, and left to the
senate little more than trophies of show and ornament. As a first step,
all the greater provinces, as Spain and Gaul, were subdivided into
many smaller ones. This done, Augustus proposed that the senate should
preside over the administration of those amongst them which were
peaceably settled, and which paid a regular tribute; whilst all those
which were the seats of danger,--either as being exposed to hostile
inroads, or to internal commotions,--all, therefore, in fact, _which
could justify the keeping up of a military force,_ he assigned to
himself. In virtue of this arrangement, the senate possessed in Africa
those provinces which had been formed out of Carthage, Cyrene, and the
kingdom of Numidia; in Europe, the richest and most quiet part of
Spain _(Hispania Bætica),_ with the large islands of Sicily, Sardinia,
Corsica, and Crete, and some districts of Greece; in Asia, the kingdoms
of Pontus and Bithynia, with that part of Asia Minor technically called
Asia; whilst, for his own share, Augustus retained Gaul, Syria, the
chief part of Spain, and Egypt, the granary of Rome; finally, all the
military posts on the Euphrates, on the Danube, or the Rhine.

Yet even the showy concessions here made to the senate were defeated
by another political institution, settled at the same time. It had
been agreed that the governors of provinces should be appointed by the
emperor and the senate jointly. But within the senatorian jurisdiction,
these governors, with the title of _Proconsuls,_ were to have no
military power whatsoever; and the appointments were good only for a
single year. Whereas, in the imperatorial provinces, where the governor
bore the title of _Proprætor,_ there was provision made for a military
establishment; and as to duration, the office was regulated entirely by
the emperor's pleasure. One other ordinance, on the same head, riveted
the vassalage of the senate. Hitherto, a great source of the senate's
power had been found in the uncontrolled management of the provincial
revenues; but at this time, Augustus so arranged that branch of
the administration, that, throughout the senatorian or proconsular
provinces, all taxes were immediately paid into the _ararium_, or
treasury of the state; whilst the whole revenues of the proprætorian
(or imperatorial) provinces, from this time forward, flowed into the
_fiscus_, or private treasure of the individual emperor.] And in all
the rest of his arrangements, Augustus had proceeded on the principle
of leaving as many openings to civic influences, and impressing upon all
his institutions as much of the old Roman character, as was compatible
with the real and substantial supremacy established in the person of the
emperor. Neither is it at all certain, as regarded even this aspect of
the imperatorial office, that Augustus had the purpose, or so much as
the wish, to annihilate all collateral power, and to invest the chief
magistrate with absolute irresponsibility. For himself, as called upon
to restore a shattered government, and out of the anarchy of civil wars
to recombine the elements of power into some shape better fitted for
duration (and, by consequence, for insuring peace and protection to the
world) than the extinct republic, it might be reasonable to seek such an
irresponsibility. But, as regarded his successors, considering the great
pains he took to discourage all manifestations of princely arrogance,
and to develop, by education and example, the civic virtues of
patriotism and affability in their whole bearing towards the people
of Rome, there is reason to presume that he wished to remove them
from popular control, without, therefore, removing them from popular

Hence it was, and from this original precedent of Augustus, aided by the
constitution which he had given to the office of imperator, that up
to the era of Dioclesian, no prince had dared utterly to neglect the
senate, or the people of Rome. He might hate the senate, like Severus,
or Aurelian; he might even meditate their extermination, like the brutal
Maximin. But this arose from any cause rather than from contempt. He
hated them precisely because he feared them, or because he paid them an
involuntary tribute of superstitious reverence, or because the malice of
a tyrant interpreted into a sort of treason the rival influence of the
senate over the minds of men. But, before Dioclesian, the undervaluing
of the senate, or the harshest treatment of that body, had arisen from
views which were _personal_ to the individual Cæsar. It was now made
to arise from the very constitution of the office, and the mode of the
appointment. To defend the empire, it was the opinion of Dioclesian
that a single emperor was not sufficient. And it struck him, at the same
time, that by the very institution of a plurality of emperors, which
was now destined to secure the integrity of the empire, ample provision
might be made for the personal security of each emperor. He carried his
plan into immediate execution, by appointing an associate to his own
rank of Augustus in the person of Maximian--an experienced general;
whilst each of them in effect multiplied his own office still farther
by severally appointing a Cæsar, or hereditary prince. And thus the
very same partition of the public authority, by means of a duality of
emperors, to which the senate had often resorted of late, as the best
means of restoring their own republican aristocracy, was now adopted by
Dioclesian as the simplest engine for overthrowing finally the power of
either senate or army to interfere with the elective privilege. This he
endeavored to centre in the existing emperors; and, at the same moment,
to discourage treason or usurpation generally, whether in the party
choosing or the party chosen, by securing to each emperor, in the case
of his own assassination, an avenger in the person of his surviving
associate, as also in the persons of the two Cæsars, or adopted heirs
and lieutenants. The associate emperor, Maximian, together with the
two Cæsars--Galerius appointed by himself, and Constantius Chlorus by
Maximian--were all bound to himself by ties of gratitude; all owing
their stations ultimately to his own favor. And these ties he endeavored
to strengthen by other ties of affinity; each of the Augusti having
given his daughter in marriage to his own adopted Cæsar. And thus it
seemed scarcely possible that a usurpation should be successful against
so firm a league of friends and relations.

The direct purposes of Dioclesian were but imperfectly attained; the
internal peace of the empire lasted only during his own reign; and with
his abdication of the empire commenced the bloodiest civil wars which
had desolated the world since the contests of the great triumvirate.
But the collateral blow, which he meditated against the authority of
the senate, was entirely successful. Never again had the senate any real
influence on the fate of the world. And with the power of the senate
expired concurrently the weight and influence of Rome. Dioclesian is
supposed never to have seen Rome, except on the single occasion when
he entered it for the ceremonial purpose of a triumph. Even for that
purpose it ceased to be a city of resort; for Dioclesian's was the final
triumph. And, lastly, even as the chief city of the empire for business
or for pleasure, it ceased to claim the homage of mankind; the Cæsar
was already born whose destiny it was to cashier the metropolis of the
world, and to appoint her successor. This also may be regarded in
effect as the ordinance of Dioclesian; for he, by his long residence
at Nicomedia, expressed his opinion pretty plainly, that Rome was not
central enough to perform the functions of a capital to so vast an
empire; that this was one cause of the declension now become so visible
in the forces of the state; and that some city, not very far from the
Hellespont or the Aegean Sea, would be a capital better adapted by
position to the exigencies of the times.

But the revolutions effected by Dioclesian did not stop here. The
simplicity of its republican origin had so far affected the external
character and expression of the imperial office, that in the midst
of luxury the most unbounded, and spite of all other corruptions,
a majestic plainness of manners, deportment, and dress, had still
continued from generation to generation, characteristic of the Roman
imperator in his intercourse with his subjects. All this was now
changed; and for the Roman was substituted the Persian dress, the
Persian style of household, a Persian court, and Persian manners, A
diadem, or tiara beset with pearls, now encircled the temples of the
Roman Augustus; his sandals were studded with pearls, as in the Persian
court; and the other parts of his dress were in harmony with these. The
prince was instructed no longer to make himself familiar to the eyes
of men. He sequestered himself from his subjects in the recesses of his
palace. None, who sought him, could any longer gain easy admission
to his presence. It was a point of his new duties to be difficult of
access; and they who were at length admitted to an audience, found him
surrounded by eunuchs, and were expected to make their approaches by
genuflexions, by servile "adorations," and by real acts of worship as to
a visible god.

It is strange that a ritual of court ceremonies, so elaborate and
artificial as this, should first have been introduced by a soldier, and
a warlike soldier like Dioclesian. This, however, is in part explained
by his education and long residence in Eastern countries.

But the same eastern training fell to the lot of Constantine, who was in
effect his successor; [Footnote: On the abdication of Dioclesian and
of Maximian, Galerius and Constantius succeeded as the new Augusti. But
Galerius, as the more immediate representative of Dioclesian, thought
himself entitled to appoint both Cæsars,--the Daza (or Maximus) in
Syria, Severus in Italy. Meantime, Constantine, the son of Constantius,
with difficulty obtaining permission from Galerius, paid a visit to his
father; upon whose death, which followed soon after, Constantine came
forward as a Cæsar, under the appointment of his father. Galerius
submitted with a bad grace; but Maxentius, a reputed son of Maximian,
was roused by emulation with Constantine to assume the purple; and
being joined by his father, they jointly attacked and destroyed Severus.
Galerius, to revenge the death of his own Cæsar, advanced towards Rome;
but being compelled to a disastrous retreat, he resorted to the measure
of associating another emperor with himself, as a balance to his new
enemies. This was Licinius; and thus, at one time, there were six
emperors, either as Augusti or as Cæsars. Galerius, however, dying, all
the rest were in succession destroyed by Constantine.] and the Oriental
tone and standard established by these two emperors, though disturbed a
little by the plain and military bearing of Julian, and one or two
more emperors of the same breeding, finally re-established itself with
undisputed sway in the Byzantine court.

Meantime the institutions of Dioclesian, if they had destroyed Rome and
the senate as influences upon the course of public affairs, and if they
had destroyed the Roman features of the Cæsars, do, notwithstanding,
appear to have attained one of their purposes, in limiting the extent
of imperial murders. Travelling through the brief list of the remaining
Cæsars, we perceive a little more security for life; and hence the
successions are less rapid. Constantine, who (like Aaron's rod) had
swallowed up all his competitors _seriatim,_ left the empire to his
three sons; and the last of these most unwillingly to Julian. That
prince's Persian expedition, so much resembling in rashness and
presumption the Russian campaign of Napoleon, though so much below it in
the scale of its tragic results, led to the short reign of Jovian, (or
Jovinian,) which lasted only seven months. Upon his death succeeded the
house of Valentinian, [Footnote: Valentinian the First, who admitted his
brother Valens to a partnership in the empire, had, by his first
wife, an elder son, Gratian, who reigned and associated with himself
Theodosius, commonly called the Great. By his second wife he had
Valentinian the Second, who, upon the death of his brother Gratian,
was allowed to share the empire by Theodosius. Theodosius, by his first
wife, had two sons,--Arcadius, who afterwards reigned in the east, and
Honorius, whose western reign was so much illustrated by Stilicho. By
a second wife, daughter to Valentinian the First, Theodosius had
a daughter, (half-sister, therefore, to Honorius,) whose son was
Valentinian the Third.] in whose descendant, of the third generation,
the empire, properly speaking, expired. For the seven shadows who
succeeded, from Avitus and Majorian to Julius Nepos and Romulus
Augustulus, were in no proper sense Roman emperors,--they were not
even emperors of the West,--but had a limited kingdom in the Italian
peninsula. Valentinian the Third was, as we have said, the last emperor
of the West.

But, in a fuller and ampler sense, recurring to what we have said of
Dioclesian and the tenor of his great revolutions, we may affirm that
Probus and Carus were the final representatives of the majesty of Rome:
for they reigned over the whole empire, not yet incapable of sustaining
its own unity; and in them were still preserved, not yet obliterated by
oriental effeminacy, those majestic features which reflected republican
consuls, and, through them, the senate and people of Rome. That, which
had offended Dioclesian in the condition of the Roman emperors, was
the grandest feature of their dignity. It is true that the peril of
the office had become intolerable; each Cæsar submitted to his sad
inauguration with a certainty, liable even to hardly any disguise from
the delusions of youthful hope, that for him, within the boundless
empire which he governed, there was no coast of safety, no shelter
from the storm, no retreat, except the grave, from the dagger of the
assassin. Gibbon has described the hopeless condition of one who should
attempt to fly from the wrath of the almost omnipresent emperor. But
this dire impossibility of escape was in the end dreadfully retaliated
upon the emperor; persecutors and traitors were found every where: and
the vindictive or the ambitious subject found himself as omnipresent
as the jealous or the offended emperor. The crown of the Cæsars was
therefore a crown of thorns; and it must be admitted, that never in
this world have rank and power been purchased at so awful a cost
in tranquillity and peace of mind. The steps of Cæsar's throne were
absolutely saturated with the blood of those who had possessed it:
and so inexorable was that murderous fate which overhung that gloomy
eminence, that at length it demanded the spirit of martyrdom in him
who ventured to ascend it. In these circumstances, some change was
imperatively demanded. Human nature was no longer equal to the terrors
which it was summoned to face. But the changes of Dioclesian transmuted
that golden sceptre into a base oriental alloy. They left nothing behind
of what had so much challenged the veneration of man: for it was in the
union of republican simplicity with the irresponsibility of illimitable
power, it was in the antagonism between the merely human and
approachable condition of Cæsar as a man, and his divine supremacy as
a potentate and king of kings--that the secret lay of his unrivalled
grandeur. This perished utterly under the reforming hands of Dioclesian.
Cæsar only it was that could be permitted to extinguish Cæsar: and a
Roman imperator it was who, by remodelling, did in effect abolish,
by exorcising from its foul terrors, did in effect disenchant of its
sanctity, that imperatorial dignity, which having once perished, could
have no second existence, and which was undoubtedly the sublimest
incarnation of power, and a monument the mightiest of greatness built by
human hands, which upon this planet has been suffered to appear.

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